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The Regulatory Environment of Pharma Companies -
GMP & GDP Guidelines

If a company wants to research, produce, store, transport or sell pharmaceutical products, they are subject to regulatory requirements. 

The most common known Practices are:

  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): GMP are the practices required in order to conform to the guidelines recommended by agencies that control the authorization and licensing of the manufacture and sale of food and beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, dietary supplements, and medical devices. These guidelines provide minimum requirements that a manufacturer must meet to assure that their products are consistently high in quality, from batch to batch, for their intended use.
  • Good Distribution Practices (GDP): Good distribution practice (GDP) describes the minimum standards that a wholesale distributor must meet to ensure that the quality and integrity of medicines is maintained throughout the supply chain.

The laws and regulations are specific to each country and typically include a national or international authority like the FDA (in the United States), EU (in Europe) or Swissmedic (in Switzerland), all coordinated by the ICH (International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use).

In addition to official regulations, there are a number of important associations issuing guidance documents supporting and detailing the regulations and their application in specific situations. Some of the most influential organisations relevant to the pharmaceutical supply chain industry are the ISPE (International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering), the USP (United States Pharmacopeia), the PDA (Parental Drug Association) and the WHO (World Health Organisation). The regulatory framework is therefore a living organism which changes almost daily with new laws becoming effective and new guidance documents being published.

GMP vs. GDP – what are the differences?

From a drug supply chain perspective, the cornerstones of the regulatory framework are the Good Manufacturing Practice system (GMP) and the Good Distribution Practice system (GDP) – or often jointly referred to as GxP. While GMP lays its focus on activities around manufacturing (including testing, release & storage), GDP focuses on the distribution including transportation, storage & wholesale of pharmaceuticals products. Both, GMP and GDP aim to increase public health by ensuring the product quality. 

In a nutshell

If you store or transport pharmaceutical products, you have to comply to GMP and GDP guidelines, thus you must ensure that:


Compliance in the Context of the Pharma Supply Chain

If a company stores or transports pharmaceutical products and wants to comply to GMP and GDP guidelines it must produce, handle, store and transport the products in qualified facilities. Calibrated sensors need to be installed in those facilities, which report their temperature values to a compliant monitoring system. But what does GxP compliance in combination with a temperature monitoring solution mean? In the following short summary we list all elements and features of a GxP-compliant temperature monitoring solution.

What is Title 21 CFR Part 11?

“Title 21 CFR Part 11” is the part of the Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations written by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Title 21 contains regulations on electronic records and electronic signatures. Part 11 defines the criteria by which electronic records and electronic signatures are considered trustworthy, reliable, and equivalent to paper records to ensure GxP compliance.

A monitoring solution which stores electronic records which are critical to patient safety must be in compliance to Title 21 CFR Part 11. In order to do so, it is important to understand the main risks. 

How does Title 21 CFR Part 11 apply to a monitoring solution?

Electronic data could be deleted, accidentally modified or intentionally modified. Title 21 CFR Part 11 defines criteria by which electronic data is trustworthy, reliable and equivalent to paper records and handwritten signatures executed on paper. If you follow those rules, your electronic records will be complete, intact, maintained in the original context and geared towards compliance.

Complete Data Monitoring temperature with the help of sensors, a communication bridge and the software solution, one of the main challenges is the completeness of data. Mechanisms need to be in place to ensure compliance, so that no data is lost on the way from the wireless sensors through the communication bridge to the monitoring software. Therefore, in case of a disconnection between the sensors and the radio bridge or the cloud storage, data must be buffered in the sensors until the cloud confirms that the connection has been re-established and he data has arrived. 

Intact Data Although the risk for accidental or intentional modification is minimal, the integrity of data in a measurement chain can only be achieved by encrypting the data all the way from the measuring wireless sensor through the communication bridge to the cloud. Once the data has arrived in the software, it is important that no raw data can be deleted or modified. Any user should not be able to change the raw data, however it is possible to add certain types of additional information. For example, in order to add an interpretation of the data, certain comments or acknowledgements about the raw data can be added to the system. Furthermore, in order to create selective views on the raw data, reports can be created and exported.

Maintaining electronic data in its original context – Keeping the data in one single source on a central cloud infrastructure makes sure that the data is kept in its original recorded context and the risk of misinterpretation is therefore eliminated. Warnings, alarms and reports should always refer to the unique sensor name, event number and time stamp.


Checklist cloud-based Temperature Monitoring

Download a summary on everything you need to know about storing temperature data in the Cloud.


Executive Summary Temperature Monitoring

Download a summary on everything you need to know about temperature monitoring.


Compliance in User Management & Authentification

There are many rules to follow when it comes to compliance in user management. Every user with access to the solution must be identified by a unique username and password and must have a clear role and rights. Additionally, every action taken by the user in the system must be identified and tracked. When conducting critical operations such as the acknowledgement of an alarm, the user even needs to confirm his action by inserting his password a second time. In order to avoid unauthorized access, it is furthermore important to implement a time-out mechanism in case the user is not taking action for a longer time period.

What is an Audit Trail?

The result of the above mentioned tracking functionalities is a complete audit trail aligned with compliance: Who has done what and why? Technically, the audit trail keeps track of every single automated event the system is generating and every single manual task a user is performing. So regardless from which perspective one takes a look into the system – a full audit trail could be:

  • Sensors: Timeline of all events on a sensor like measurement values, statuses, setting changes, warnings, alarms and acknowledgments
  • Warnings and alarms: Time stamps, statistics, who has commented on what, who has acknowledged something and when
  • Reports: Sensor names, timeline, user which has created the report

Automated Events in the Audit Trail

A temperature monitoring system typically executes the following different automated mechanisms and workflows:

  • monitoring the system availability and performance (to trigger a system warning)
  • monitoring the sensors (battery status, wireless connection, validity of the delivered data to trigger sensor warning)
  • measuring, storing and evaluating temperature values and matching them with the defined limits to trigger high/low temperature warnings and alarms (for further information check section "how to deal with temperature excursions")
  • monitoring all settings and setting changes

Manual Tasks in the Audit Trail

In addition to automated events, the system must keep track of every single manual task a user performs including the time stamps of each task. The following manual events could be tracked:

  • Who is logged into the system and what are the roles and rights of this individual?
  • Who has logged in/out at which times?
  • Who has changed settings, what were the settings like before and after the change?
  • Who has commented or acknowledged a warning or an alarm?
  • Who has generated a report?


How to deal with Temperature Excursions?

GMP and GDP standards define that pharmaceutical products must be stored and transported according to the required temperature conditions mentioned on the drug label to ensure compliance. Every excursion from these temperature conditions must be documented. The monitoring system should support the user in creating automated excursion reports to which the user can still add certain information. The following procedure gives an example on which questions a Quality Manager should ask, once a temperature excursion has occurred. 

Excursion Report

A temperature excursion triggers an alarm. The alarm can be seen on the sensor itself or the dashboard display and can be sent out via email or SMS containing an excursion report with the following information:

  • Where did the alarm go off? Which facility, container or sensor had an excursion?

  • When has the temperature excursion occurred and when were the drug label conditions re-established?

  • How long has the product been exposed to temperatures outside the drug label conditions?

  • What was the highest/lowest temperature measured?

Manual Information to be added by a user to the temperature monitoring system

  • Affected Product? Which product, batch or pallet has been potentially affected?
  • Risks? Is it likely, that the core temperature of the product has been affected thus damaging the product?

  • Severity? Is there sufficient stability budget left to justify a release of the product or is a product recall necessary?

  • Corrective actions needed? What is the cause of the temperature excursion and does it have to be corrected? Do people need to be informed about the findings?

  • Preventive Actions needed? In case of high-risk and/or repetitive errors: Which preventive actions can be performed in order to avoid a repetition of the event? Are changes implemented?

The Dashboard

Why is a Dashboard important?

A dashboard gives a brief overview on the current status of each sensor. The sensors can be grouped in a meaningful way or placed on top of a floor plan to illustrate their physical location. The dashboard should show the currently measured value, show the alarm status and give further meaningful information on the technical status of the sensor. The benefits of a dashboard are:

  • Clear entry screen into the software and easy navigation from the dashboard
  • Quick overview screen for operators to see, whether the production is running smooth or not

Why is a Periodic Reporting important?

Besides a clear alarming mechanism, it is vital to have a periodic reporting on all sensors of a system. Every report can have a different purpose and therefore every report will contain different content. If the report serves as an archive of data, the report should be a document with compliance regarding the ISO standards for long term archiving. If the report gets sent to customers, it might be vital to combine various sensors together giving the ideal overview on the customer's project. To sum it up, a few examples of regular reports could be:

  • Monthly reports for each sensor (for archiving purposes)
  • Weekly reports of various sensors combined (for customer reports)
  • Daily reports for each sensor (for data exports to a batch system)

How is Data archived?

Archiving is not clearly defined in GxP regulations and is left open to everybody's own interpretation. Many people have the rather unrealistic idea, that once data is archived, it should be available forever in the same way as it was generated. Data archiving is the process of "moving data that is no longer actively used to a separate storage device for long-term retention. Archive data consists of older data that remains important to the organization or must be retained for future reference or regulatory compliance reasons.” As a result, "archive data" has a different form than "process data".

Process Data

Process data is “fresh data” which is used to execute business decisions (e.g. data of a product, mean kinetic temperature calculation of a stability study). The service provider must ensure that for two years, process data is available electronically for visualizations (e.g. zoom, overlay), statistics (e.g. calculate MKT), reports (e.g. release decision) and exports of the data (e.g. to a higher batch management system). Furthermore, it must be possible to add comments related to the data in the system.

Archive Data

After the first two years, the data is typically not needed in business processes anymore and its location and form will be changed into archive data. The service provider must ensure that archive data is available for at least 10 years and fulfils the following requirements:

  • Naming conventions clearly labeled (e.g. "monthly report Sensor A")
  • Data must be stored as a record in a readable form, for example the "PDF/A" format, which follows the ISO 19005 standards for archived documents
  • Data must be stored in a secured data archive

Further topics to discover

Qualification and Mapping

If you work with pharmaceutical products and want to comply with GMP and GDP guidelines, you must know more about Qualification.


More about Qualification

Temperature Monitoring

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More about Temperature Monitoring

Calibration of Equipment

Find out more about the process of a calibration and why it is even necessary to calibrate a sensor.


More about Calibration