5 Pitfalls in Transfer of Regulatory Responsibilities in Clinical Trials and How to Avoid Them

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Published: 2023/09/20 Last updated: 2023/10/31 By: Tom Lazenby

Robust oversight of the delegated regulatory responsibilities in clinical trials is a challenge. Sponsors are outsourcing more of their clinical operations to vendors, the dynamics of responsibility and oversight becomes complex.

When outsourced responsibilities are not managed properly, this process leads to a range of issues, from quality concerns and inspection findings to significant delays that inflate costs and potentially compromise patient safety.

Regardless of the delegation method and the contractual intricacies, the Clinical Trial Sponsor, always maintains the legal responsibility for ensuring that the trial is performed within all applicable regulations including GCP.

This blog post explores five common challenges in the transfer of regulatory responsibilities and provides actionable insights on preventing them.

Pitfall 1: Inadequate Quality Agreement

Even with a Quality Agreement confusion about the responsibilities of each party, mismanagement of quality issues, and, in worst-case scenarios, disputes that can stall the progress of the trial. You need to have a robust Quality Agreement in place.

For clinical trial teams, this can result in undue stress, inefficient use of resources, and increased risk of non-compliance. In terms of the trial, an unclear Quality Agreement can impact patient safety, data integrity, and trial timelines.

Mitigate this by investing time in drafting a robust Quality Agreement. The responsibility of establishing this agreement falls on both the sponsor and the vendor. This process should be initiated as early as possible, ideally the Sponsor should drive the process to ensure their quality expectations of the vendor are included.

Top Tips:
Detail responsibilities: outline who handles what, like data management and adverse event reporting.
Establish dispute resolution: Predefine a process to hasten resolutions and avert escalations.
Regular revisions: Update the Quality Agreement regularly to adapt to trial changes and regulatory updates.
Define Quality Metrics: Establish objective metrics to measure performance and ensure adherence to quality standards.
Address Training Needs: Include provisions for necessary training for vendor personnel to understand and meet responsibilities.
Specify Communication Channels: Detail how and when communication between parties should occur, promoting clarity and timely responses.

Pitfall 2: Inadequate Oversight

Without a clear view of vendor performance and activities, compliance and quality issues can go undetected until they escalate into serious problems.

Teams may find themselves scrambling to manage unforeseen issues, leading to stress, inefficiency, and potential burnout. Meanwhile, the study risks are compounded by the potential for quality breaches, data inaccuracies, and regulatory non-compliance.

To enhance oversight, establish robust oversight mechanisms performed continuously throughout the trial. This process should involve the clinical trial management team, quality assurance, and the vendor’s project management team.

Top Tips:
Routine Monitoring: Ensure frequent status reports, performance metrics, and ongoing communication.
Performance Assessment: Evaluate vendors regularly against Quality Agreement standards.
Regular Audits: Periodically audit vendor’s processes and systems to pinpoint potential issues.
Vendor Training: Facilitate training programs to ensure vendors’ understanding of regulatory responsibilities.
Clear Escalation Pathways: Establish explicit procedures for escalating issues to the right parties.
Robust Documentation: Maintain comprehensive and up-to-date records of all vendor activities and communications.

Pitfall 3: Lack of Clear Communication Channels

Without clear channels for communication, misunderstandings occur frequently, response times lag, and compliance issues arise.

For teams, this often translates into frustration, inefficiencies, and delays. For the trial, it could mean unaddressed problems, poor data quality, and prolonged timelines.

Implement well-defined communication channels and processes. This involves key representatives from the sponsor and vendor teams and should be established at the start of the relationship.

Top Tips:
Regular Meetings: Set up weekly or monthly check-ins to discuss performance, issues, and upcoming changes.
Clear Escalation Pathway: Define who to contact during serious quality or regulatory concerns.
Open Dialogue: Foster an environment that welcomes constructive criticism and continuous improvement.
Documentation Sharing: Establish a system for sharing and accessing documents related to regulatory obligations.
Contact Points: Identify specific contact points for each regulatory aspect within both the sponsor and vendor teams.
Joint Problem Solving: Collaborate on resolving issues and improving processes for better regulatory compliance.

Pitfall 4: Inadequate Documentation

Documentation, particularly the TMF, is a historical record of a clinical trial. It’s proof of compliance, repository of data, and the reference for any questions or disputes.

Inadequate documentation leads to confusion, lack of traceability, and difficulty demonstrating compliance. For teams, it can mean a lack of clarity on past decisions, actions, and events. For the trial, it can compromise data integrity, jeopardize regulatory compliance, and stall progress.

To ensure comprehensive documentation, establish stringent documentation practices. This task falls on both the sponsor and vendor, and it should start from the initiation of the trial and continue until its conclusion.

Top Tips:
Document Key Events: Record all significant decisions, protocol deviations, and responses to quality issues.
Regular Review: Periodically reassess and adapt documentation practices as the trial evolves.
Secure Storage: Use secure, accessible solutions like cloud storage for all trial-related documents.
Clarity: Ensure all documents are clear, concise, and accurately reflect the tasks or decisions taken.
Audit Trails: Maintain proper audit trails for any changes made to the documentation.
Training: Provide adequate training to both Sponsor and Vendor Teams on documentation standards and practices.

Pitfall 5: Failure to Identify and Mitigate Risks

Risk is an inherent part of clinical trials. Failing to properly identify and mitigate and continually manage risks leads to unexpected surprises, complications, and delays.

For teams, this can mean fire-fighting, stress, and operating in persistent uncertainty. For the trial, risks can compromise patient safety, data integrity, and the achievement of trial objectives.

To manage risks, establish a proactive risk management approach. The responsibility lies with the sponsor, but the vendor should also conduct their own risk management processes. This should occur from the planning phase of the trial and be continually reviewed regularly throughout the trial.

Top Tips:
Risk Assessment: Conduct an initial risk assessment related to the vendor’s services and trial.
Mitigation Plan: Outline preventative steps or minimization strategies for each identified risk.
Regular Reviews: Update the risk management plan regularly as new risks emerge.
Communication: Establish clear communication channels to promptly discuss any risks that arise.
Risk Ownership: Assign risk ownership to ensure accountability for risk management activities.
Risk Ranking and Sorting: Manage the risk rating of all your vendors and their delegated transferred regulatory obligations, direct resource using a risk-based approach.

Wrapping Up

Transfer of regulatory responsibilities is simple in definition, understanding the pitfalls and solutions can aid in successful delegation and oversight.

Prevention is always better than a cure—especially in clinical trials, where patient safety and wellbeing are paramount. It’s essential to invest in a comprehensive, strategic approach to vendor management, such as using the Sponsor Vendor Risk Tracker for real-time visibility and tracking.

The road to successful vendor management in clinical trials requires communication, detailed agreements, proactive oversight, meticulous documentation, and thorough vendor qualification.

A Note on Mayet

If you made it this far, I hope that you found this post useful. At Mayet we are committed to providing insights and best practices to everyone in the clinical trials sector working hard to deliver higher quality trials on time and in budget.

In order to achieve proactivity in the management of transferred regulatory obligations, Mayet has developed a solutions which links all study specific delegations to the vendors which they have been delegated.

This solution also includes a full QRM management risk assessment of each transferred obligation, enabling sponsors to track, act upon and review these risks whenever required. Just another example of how we are implementing industry requirements into simple software workflows.

Tom Lazenby

Tom is the Founder and CEO of Mayet. Using his experience in streamlining operations and driving innovation in clinical research, Tom is dedicated to enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and risk mitigation strategies for vendor management and oversight.

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