NIH suspends pharmaceutical development operations

The move follows the discovery of serious manufacturing problems and lack of compliance with standard operating procedures

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in the US has suspended operations of its Pharmaceutical Development Section (PDS) due to the discovery of serious manufacturing problems and lack of compliance with standard operating procedures. NIH is the nation's medical research agency and is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Upon receipt of a complaint, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representatives inspected the Pharmaceutical Development Section (PDS) in May and found a series of deficiencies that will require a number of corrective actions.

The facility makes products for certain clinical research studies conducted in the hospital and collaborating facilities. In April, two vials of albumin, used for the administration of the drug interleukin in experimental studies, were found to have fungal contamination. Vials made from the same batch were administered to six patients, although it is unknown whether those or other vials were contaminated. The six patients have been notified and are being followed closely for any signs of infection.

‘This is a distressing and unacceptable situation,’ said NIH Director Dr Francis Collins. ‘The fact that patients may have been put in harm’s way because of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in the NIH Clinical Center’s Pharmaceutical Development Section is deeply troubling. I will personally oversee the steps to protect the safety of patients and remedy the situation as swiftly as possible.’

Among the problems the FDA identified in its inspection were deficiencies in the physical facility, including flaws in the air handling system, and operational failures including inadequate quality control, insufficient employee training and lack of compliance with standard operating procedures. Deficiencies of lesser significance were identified in the Clinical Center Pharmacy. The FDA inspection reports are available here.

The following steps are being taken immediately to protect patients:

  • PDS operations have been suspended and no products will be made or distributed until all problems are fully understood and corrected; materials produced by the Section are being systematically tested for contamination
  • Of the participants in the 46 studies that are potentially affected, approximately 250 are currently scheduled to receive products manufactured by the PDS; NIH has notified the individual principal scientists responsible for each of these protocols and is in the process of notifying the participants; the vast majority of these patients are not immediately due for treatment and NIH is working to secure alternative sources for the products
  • an external group of experts in microbiology and sterile manufacturing practices will be appointed to conduct a thorough review, including an assessment of all standard operating procedures, policies, staffing and training, and make recommendations to the NIH director on the corrective actions required.

In addition to the immediate steps NIH is taking, it will provide an interim corrective action plan to the FDA by Friday 19 June. ‘Our first responsibility is the safety and care of our patients,’ said Dr Collins. ‘NIH leadership is determined to identify and correct all of the deficiencies that have led to this situation.’

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