Be Prepared for an FDA Audit

An FDA audit or inspection can occur at any time, and sometimes with very little advance warning. The FDA conducts both announced and unannounced inspections of clinical investigator sites, typically under the following circumstances:

  • to verify the accuracy and reliability of data that has been submitted to the agency;
  • as a result of a complaint to the agency about the conduct of the study at a particular investigational site;
  • in response to sponsor concerns;
  • upon termination of the clinical research site;
  • during ongoing clinical trials to provide real-time assessment of the investigator’s conduct of the trial and protection of human subjects;
  • at the request of an FDA review division; and
  • related to certain classes of investigational products that FDA has identified as products of special interest in its current work plan (i.e., targeted inspections based on current public health concerns).

News headlines that attract the most attention tend to reflect serious allegations of fraud or negligence. The tendency may be to breathe a sigh of relief that such egregious offenses could “not happen here.” However, it’s the smaller, less obvious infraction that can slip through the cracks and cause serious headaches for investigators and their staffs. For example, if an inspector finds an issue with one clinical trial, the investigation may extend to your other trials.

FDA audits are usually just a routine procedure, but they can elevate the stress in a research office. Audits, whether in person or virtual, can last days, and questions are likely to come up.

As part of BRANY’s service to clients, a member from our quality team can work with research coordinators and investigators to organize documents for an efficient and orderly FDA review. There is much that the research site can do, however, to ease the process.

A review of research site audits we have conducted over the last several years highlights a few areas in which research staff can protect themselves before and during a trial.

Here are a few tips for being audit-ready at any moment.

Start with solid documentation. Starting on a strong foundation of detailed documentation will prepare your team for an inspection. Even if there are issues that come up during a trial, accurate and up to date documentation will outline how those issues occurred and were managed.

Organize each study topic. One of the most time-consuming efforts for research staff is organizing and properly labeling the materials. But this is an essential step in making information easily referenced and accessible.

We do not recommend relying on your electronic medical record to stand on its own. Because there are so many applications used by different institutions, regulators and auditors are not likely to want to navigate the software to find the information. The impetus is on the research office to extract and organize the information.

Refresh your memory. If the FDA does request an audit, take time review all the cases and review any issues that may have come up during the life of the trial. This will reduce your anxiety and risk of fumbling for answers should you be questioned.

Track any deviation from the protocol. Even if a sponsor approves a deviation from the study protocol, you are still required to log and report it to the IRB. Some changes can seem inconsequential. For example, a patient reschedules an appointment, so the follow-up occurs outside the defined timeframe. It must be documented and submitted. No deviation is too small for documentation and submission to the IRB. Remember to review monitoring reports for cited deviations and report to the IRB as required.

Additionally, it can also be beneficial to use a log to track concomitant medications, and adverse events.

Update credential and license information. For long-term studies, it’s important to review and update CVs and licenses in the regulatory binder. Review investigators’ medical licenses and update the documentation if they have expired.

Likewise, if your organization is using its own labs for processing specimens, it is important to update any CLIA or other certification documentation. Typically, lab certifications expire annually.

If you are packing and transporting any infectious agents, such as lab specimens, your personnel must receive training. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has training for compliance in dangerous goods transportation. Anyone who collects, packs or ships these materials should be trained and certified; this must be documented in the regulatory binder.

Monitor your Delegation of Authority Log. If you add a new investigator to the trial, or hire a new research coordinator or study nurse, you must document the addition of any key personnel in your Delegation of Authority Log and have tasks appropriately delegated. This information must also be submitted to the IRB and confirm the key study personnel are IRB approved prior to performing key study procedures.

Conduct periodic internal reviews. With busy schedules, it can be tempting to wait for monitors to flag concerns. But it’s important to be proactive. Conducting a spot check every six months and a more detailed annual audit may protect you from panicked scrambling in the days before an announced FDA visit.

Being prepared for an audit does not mean hours of review. The secret of success is to keep regulatory binders up to date including sponsor correspondence, and IRB approval letters and correspondences, and to report changes and updates to the research to the IRB in a timely manner. If you doggedly track the seemingly small items throughout the course of a study, you will be in a good position to succeed in an FDA review.