FDA's Office of Compliance and Office of Pharmaceutical Science, both part of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
(CDER), and the Product Quality Research Institute (PQRI) co-chaired a workshop for industry on process drift in December
2010, in North Bethesda, MD. The workshop was well attended by participants representing industry, academia, and CDER. The
program received high marks for its content and quality. The presentations were deemed relevant and compelling, with many
examples illustrating a life-cycle approach to active monitoring and improving manufacturing performance. Both APIs and myriad
pharmaceutical dosage forms were discussed. There was general agreement that this workshop deserves additional exposure. It
was proposed that PQRI offer additional programs in the US and abroad, and publish a summary of the workshop. This article
is intended to meet the latter objective.
Defining process drift
Process drift in the manufacture of an API or a drug product was defined by workshop attendees as:
An unintended, unexplained or unexpected trend of measured process parameter(s) and/or resulting product attribute(s) away
from its intended target value in a time-ordered analysis over the lifetime of a process or product.
In many instances, process drift is the consequence of variation in a variety of process inputs, including raw materials,
manufacturing personnel, and machine (man-machine) interactions or processing conditions. In some cases, the testing of materials
or measurement of process parameters may also experience drift. As an example, process drift is occurring when a unit operation
of a manufacturing process moves toward the edge of its acceptable process ranges. Consequences can ultimately include significant
variability in drug release, content uniformity, assay, or other product attributes. Unacceptable variation during processing
may lead to problems with consistency of in-process output, finished-product quality at release, or increased risk of failing
specification before shelf-life expiry. It is important to understand, monitor, and control process drift so that action can
be taken before it impacts the patient.
Understanding the major sources of variation is essential to the design and control of robust processes in the manufacture
of pharmaceuticals. Over time, a component or process may drift from its target due to intrinsic or extrinsic factors. These
factors may initially be unknown or considered to be of lesser significance. Failure to adequately control processes and prevent
defects can pose risk to patients/consumers, affect product availability, and yield undesirable regulatory and business outcomes.
The objectives and scope of the FDA–PQRI workshop included:
- Discussion of a life-cycle approach to monitoring manufacturing performance that assures prompt detection and correction of
- Exploration of technological and management system approaches to better identify, measure, and control process variation and
mitigate undesirable product variability
- Discussion of the impact of process drift on product performance, safety, and efficacy.
Preventing process drift
Prevention of process drift and continual improvement was a central theme of the workshop. In addition to the quality benefits,
workshop participants discussed important business efficiencies gained from improving quality, such as reduction in inventories,
unexpected shutdowns, operational costs, and capital expenditures. Trend monitoring is an important preventive program of
a drug manufacturer to identify impending issues and allow time to investigate and resolve the problems before there is an
impact on the patient. Statistical Process Control (SPC) and other time-ordered analyses can be used, ideally in real-time
or shortly after completion of the process stage, to identify undesirable variation and enable appropriate action. Such early-warning
systems enable detection of intra-batch and inter-batch process drift in a pharmaceutical operation and are an integral part
of a 21st-Century quality system. Suitable quality standards for APIs, excipients, container-closure systems, and drug products
must be designed, implemented, monitored and periodically evaluated by persons involved in pharmaceutical manufacturing and
quality control/quality assurance, including management. Senior management's role was strongly emphasized as central to an
organization's success at achieving proactive quality assurance rather than reactive quality control.
Modern technology and process control approaches were discussed. Detection, diagnosis, and enhanced upstream control of process
variables can be modeled and process trajectory more tightly measured and controlled to ensure consistent material output.
With this enhanced quality information for each unit operation, intelligent control systems can be employed to provide dynamic
feedback for larger manufacturing process improvement efforts. This improved knowledge will enable the impact of changes to
the product or process to be predicted better so that the undesirable impact on product quality and stability can be prevented.
Ultimately, enhanced process information will facilitate a state of process control (including continuous process verification)
throughout the life cycle and yield drug quality benefits to both industry and consumers.
When robust systems are not implemented and capable tools are not used to prevent process drift, resulting manufacturing problems
may include: low product yield, batch delays, ingredient and packaging variability, batch failures, product quality-related
clinical failures, investigations, recalls, product seizures, injunctions, and consent decrees.
Detection and resolution of process drift was discussed for APIs, key excipients, and a variety of dosage forms (solid orals,
transdermals, topicals, injectables, metered-dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers). The impact of alternate source qualification
for drug product ingredients and packaging components was also included. The effect of process drift on specifications and
shelf-life was addressed. In addition, participants discussed proper supplier management, product quality monitoring and control
systems (e.g., PAT), corrective and preventive action (CAPA) programs, and quality-by-design (QbD) approaches. Each approach
was considered an integral piece to establishing and maintaining a stable manufacturing system.