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Deviation Management in Pharma: 5 Top Challenges and How to Beat Them

Victoria Ebel, Appian
March 8, 2024

In the pharmaceutical industry, deviation management is a critical process ensuring product quality, safety, and adherence to regulatory requirements. Deviations from established procedures can lead to significant consequences, making effective deviation management imperative. However, this essential function isn't without its challenges.

[Learn more about how to improve quality and deviation management. View the guide.]

Understanding the challenges.

1. Time sensitivity: Swift resolution of deviations is crucial to minimize disruptions to production schedules and prevent potential quality issues. Delays in identifying and addressing deviations can impact pharmaceutical product availability and patient safety.

When there is a high level of manual effort from a fixed team of resources in deviation management, it limits the volume of deviations that can be processed in a given time period. This leads to long deviation management closure times.

2. Regulatory compliance: Time is also essential when it comes to achieving regulatory compliance while managing deviations. Regulatory authorities typically require a timely deviation report, with specific timelines for notification depending on the severity and impact of the deviation. 

Meeting reporting timelines while conducting thorough deviation investigations and implementing corrective actions can be challenging, especially when deviations occur in processes as complex as manufacturing.

3. Complex processes: The pharmaceutical manufacturing process involves multifaceted workflows susceptible to variations. Identifying, investigating, and resolving major deviations amidst this complexity can be daunting.

Deviation management teams work across many siloed systems, emails, manual reports, and spreadsheets. When much of the deviation process is being done outside of a formal, unified system, life sciences organizations are unable to track deviations in real time nor measure performance.

4. Data management: Throughout the identification and investigation of deviations, there are vast amounts of data being pulled and analyzed from various sources, such as manufacturing systems, laboratory instruments, and quality control tests. Managing this diverse range of data types, including structured and unstructured data, presents a significant challenge.

Traditional, siloed data intake and orchestration methods may lead to data silos, hindering comprehensive analysis and decision-making.

5. Human error: Despite rigorous training and standard operating procedures (SOPs), human error remains prevalent throughout the process of identifying, investigating, and resolving deviations within pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

Due to the above mentioned complex processes and immense data intake needs, it can be difficult for team members to operate with the most complete and accurate information. Lack of clear collaboration capabilities is also common in this workflow, which increases the chances of miscommunication among teams working to identify and resolve deviations.

Innovative solutions.

1. Process automation: Implementing automated systems for deviation management streamlines workflows, reduces manual intervention, and ensures consistency in processes. Automated alerts and notifications can prompt immediate corrective action upon deviation detection, minimizing response times.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI): AI-powered tools can analyze vast data sets, identify patterns, and predict potential deviations before they occur. Machine learning algorithms can continuously improve accuracy by learning from past incidents, enhancing proactive deviation management and reducing the chance of error.

3. Data fabric: A data fabric architecture integrates disparate data sources into a unified, accessible platform. This facilitates real-time data analysis, enabling stakeholders to gain actionable insights across the entire manufacturing ecosystem. Data fabric ensures seamless collaboration and decision-making, enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of the deviation management processes.

4. Risk-based approach: Implementing a risk-based approach allows organizations to prioritize critical deviations based on their potential impact on product quality and patient safety. By focusing resources on high-risk deviations, companies can optimize mitigation efforts and allocate resources effectively.

5. Continuous quality improvement: Embracing a culture of continuous improvement fosters proactive deviation management. Regular review and refinement of processes based on insights gained from data analysis and performance metrics drives operational excellence and minimizes the recurrence of future deviations.

Deviation management in the pharmaceutical industry presents formidable challenges, but with the right technology, these roadblocks can be overcome. By leveraging process automation, AI-driven insights, and data fabric solutions, pharmaceutical companies can enhance their deviation management processes, ensuring compliance, efficiency, and a positive impact on product quality. 

Embracing innovation not only addresses current challenges but also prepares organizations to navigate future complexities in the ever-evolving landscape of pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Learn more about improving quality and deviation management through innovative solutions. View the guide.