Microbial testing performed in support of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical production falls into three main categories: detection (qualitative), enumeration (quantitative), and characterization/identification. Traditional microbiological methods listed in the compendia and discussed by using the conventional growth-based techniques, which are labor intensive and time consuming. In general, such tests require several days of incubation for microbial contamination (bioburden) to be detected, and therefore management seldom is able to take proactive corrective measures. In addition, microbial growth is limited by the growth medium used and incubation conditions, thus impacting testing sensitivity, accuracy, and reproducibility. For more than 20 years various technology platforms for Rapid Microbiological Methods (RMM) have been developed, and many have been readily adopted by the food industry and clinical microbiology laboratories. Their use would certainly offer drug companies faster test turnaround times to accommodate the aggressive deadlines for manufacturing processes and product release. Some rapid methods also offer the possibility for real-time microbial analyses, enabling management to respond to microbial contamination events in a more timely fashion, and can provide cost savings and higher efficiencies in quality control testing laboratories. Despite the many proved business and quality benefits and the fact that the FDA's initiative to promote the use of process analytical technology (PAT) includes rapid microbial methods, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries have been somewhat slow to embrace alternative microbial methodologies for several reasons. The major reason is that the bioburden count detected by incubation method and rapid assay has great divergence.
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