When Is a Photocopy Not a Photocopy?

It appears that the answer may be when you use a Xerox scanner to produce the copy! According to a story reported today, the “normal” scan settings on at least two models of Xerox scanner actually change the characters that appear on the copy that is generated. The compression software used by the machine – JBIG2 – is tuned to produce smaller files at the expense of image quality. Although OCR functionality is apparently not enabled, the machine can misinterpret certain characters under these conditions and replace them with others. A test completed by German researcher Dr. Kriesel showed a 6 replaced by an 8, and vice versa. Currently, it is not known if this issue is present in other scanners using the same compression software.

I think most of us are aware of the potential issues when using file compression software but I’m guessing that we all assume that a scanner or photocopier will accurately copy the content from an original document to the copy that is being generated, albeit perhaps at a lower resolution. This has significant repercussions for the life sciences industry who rely on data from preclinical and clinical studies being accurately reported – even when those reports are scanned or photocopied. At the moment this problem is not considered to be widespread but perhaps we should not always take so much for granted the accuracy of the technology that we are increasingly reliant upon.

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Where Are We With ‘Digital By Default’?

The UK eGovernment Interoperability Framework (eGIF) was established over 10 years ago to include a range of different initiatives to make Government more efficient by introducing standardisation. Part of this strategy included the goal of moving towards the digitisation of all government services. This has now largely been subsumed by the Government Digital Strategy which aims to make transactions “digital by default”. In other words, digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to whilst those who can’t are not excluded. What is the relevance? Well I’d like to recount two incidents that I experienced in the last couple of weeks that demonstrate the impact of having or not having a coherent digital strategy.

The first incident relates to my UK VAT Return. As a UK business registered for VAT, I have to submit details on a quarterly basis to H.M. Revenue and Customs (HMRC). For quite some time now, HMRC has provided facilities for returns to be made completely online with no need for paper records. Excellent! This quarter however, I made a small error on my return. To notify HMRC of this error, rather than make an online correction I have to submit the correction on a separate form. This is available as a PDF document. No, not a PDF form that I’m able to complete on my PC but a plain PDF document that I have to print out, complete by hand, and then post by “snail-mail” to HMRC. It would be great to have the facility to make my correction online. Failing this, why not give me an intelligent PDF form that I can enter data into on my PC and then submit electronically?

The second incident concerns my son’s application for university finance. The department that deals with applications requires parents to provide supporting evidence of their income to calculate whether the student is eligible for grants, loans etc. I duly completed the information online and was notified that “no further information is required”. Imagine my surprise when a few weeks later I received a letter through the post (NOT by email) to let me know I needed to submit copies of payslips, end-of-year tax information etc to prove my income. There was no facility to provide this electronically so I had to print off those records that I had electronically and take photocopies of others and send them off. Postage 90p. Same for my wife. Approximately 3 weeks later, I received another letter through the post (NOT by email) informing me that the requested evidence had not yet been received. Could I send it urgently otherwise my son may not receive any finance for his university placement. I duly telephoned the organisation to explain that I’d already sent the information requested. After a rather lengthy conversation, it turned out that my details HAD been received but had not yet been checked, there being a 3 week delay in the processing of incoming mail. So, we have a department that has received my envelope, logged the receipt of the documents into their system but failed to link that transaction with the system that sends out reminders! They knew my documents had been received and had them logged in the system but still sent out the reminder anyway! To make matters worse, I asked what had happened to my documents. “They have been scanned into the computer system”, I was told. So those electronic documents that I’d printed out and sent hard-copy had now been scanned and digitised. Why not provide an option online to “Upload documents”??

So why have I bored you with these two tales? The reason is that an inefficient records process could be simplified and made more efficient NOT by the implementation of an expensive, complicated technological tool but simply by some joined-up thinking and by using a few simple, cheap desktop software tools (e.g. Adobe Acrobat Create PDF Form). Isn’t it about time we all took a few minutes out of our day to do some “blue sky thinking” and identify opportunities for “quick wins”…. areas where a simple change could make our process so much more efficient.

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When is a CSR a TMF?

It appears that the anxiety within the industry regarding the proposed Trial Master File retention requirements in the draft EU Clinical Trial Regulation may be unfounded. MarinaYannakoudakisEarlier today I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Marina Yannakoudakis MEP at her constituency office in London, together with 2 colleagues from the GCP Records Managers Association (GCP-RMA). We discussed industry concerns regarding the wording of Amendment 222 and Amendment 223 and it appears that the intention may have been for these 2 clauses to refer to retention of the clinical study report and not to the entire TMF. In any event, it was somewhat of a surprise to the MEP that the TMF was as complex and extensive as it is and therefore the requirement to retain this entire document set in electronic format and for an indefinite period does not appear to be justified. Replacing “trial master files” with “clinical study report” in these 2 amendments also makes the text consistent with other clauses and articles within the draft Regulation.

This would however leave the retention period for the TMF itself undefined and so our recommendation was for this to be retained for “a minimum of 5 years” to be consistent with the original wording of the draft Regulation and consistency with existing national legislation.

Our thanks were expressed to Mrs. Yannakoudakis who agreed to provide an update to the Rapporteur for the Regulation, Mrs. Glenis Willmott. We hope that these comments are taken on board as the draft Regulation proceeds to the next stage in Parliament.

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Where Next for the Digital Age?

I found the BBC News story today regarding digitisation of the UK Courts system very interesting. The Government has plans to make courtrooms in England and Wales “fully digital” by the year 2016, ending what it described as “an outdated reliance on paper”. In addition to initiatives such as secure Wi-Fi in courts and the routine taking of evidence by video-link, the plans include getting “rid of our outdated paper-based system”.

This story just hit home once again to me the slow pace within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry of the adoption of digital technologies that facilitate a paperless environment. We’ve recently had the European Medicines Agency (EMA) issue a reflection paper on the management of clinical trial documents (the TMF) and they’re still urging caution on any reliance on digital records! At the same time we see the legal profession itself absolutely comfortable with a digital environment….. electronic signatures and all! And as we look at other sectors of industry – from banking and finance through to retail – they have mostly been using technologies that support a paperless office for many years.

This is the 21st century; a time when we have International Standards for digital certificates and European Directives for Electronic Communications and for Electronic Signatures. So isn’t it about time we broke down the final barriers to working digitally? Next time you create a document that has a wet-ink signature line, just ask yourself “Is there a technology out there that can enable me to capture that signature digitally and still remain compliant with the pertinent regulations?”. I’m willing to bet that 99% of the time, the answer will be a resounding “Yes”.

Posted in e-records, Litigation, Records management practice, Technology | 2 Comments

Clinical Trials EU Regulation – Even More Bizarre

Following the recent vote of the ENVI Committee on the several hundred amendments put forward to the proposed EU Clinical Trial Regulation, the consolidated report containing all carried amendments has now been published. Report A7-0208/2013 entitled “Report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on clinical trials on medicinal products for human use, and repealing Directive 2001/20/EC” can be downloaded HERE or from the European Parliament website.

You will remember that I noted only a few days ago my disappointment that the amendment which extended the mandatory retention period for trial master files to “indefinite” had been carried. Now that we have visibility of the final text being proposed, the amendments are even more bizarre! Amendment 222 proposes changing the wording of the draft Regulation from:

“The sponsor and the investigator shall keep a clinical trial master file” to

“The sponsor or the investigator shall keep a clinical trial master file”.

Given that the sponsor TMF and investigator TMF serve different purposes, have different contents and have their ownership defined quite separately from each other, I wonder how this is going to work. If the sponsor decides to keep the TMF – which they will need to protect themselves against product liability claims and to support regulatory activities – does this mean the investigator may destroy their TMF? What will happen when a health agency wants to conduct an inspection and finds the investigator has no TMF?

The wording of the amendment specifying retention times has changed slightly but with major impact. Amendment 223 changes the requirement to retain a trial master file for a minimum of five years to:

“The sponsor and the investigator shall archive the content of the clinical trial master file in electronic format for an indefinite period of time after concluding the clinical trial. However, the medical files of subjects shall be archived in accordance with national legislation. If the sponsor is unable to archive the master file, it may be archived in the EU database. The electronic master file shall be archived in a readable and easily searchable format.

My first observation is the inconsistency between this amendment and the prior amendment. We’ve just seen that either the sponsor or investigator may choose to retain the trial master file but we now have a requirement that both have to retain the file indefinitely! We also see a mandatory requirement for the TMF to be archived in electronic format. In one sense, I’m pleased about this change because industry is moving towards managing and archiving documents in digital form anyway. However, to mandate that all sponsors – including investigator-led trials – convert paper TMFs to electronic simply for archival purposes is astonishing. As we all know, scanning using a validated, quality process is an expensive operation and is rarely cost-effective simply for the purposes of archiving. This will place a HUGE burden on industry, and in particular on investigator sites for investigator-sponsored studies. And once again, we have this suggestion that there will exist an EU database that has the capability of managing the huge variety of documentation that makes up a trial master file…. across sponsors, investigators, CROs, EU member states…. all in “a readable and easily searchable format”.

I really do think it is time that members of the ENVI Committee took a step back and listened to one of two GCP records managers. The text now being proposed for the EU Regulation appears to me to highlight a lack of understanding in this area.

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Clinical Trials EU Regulation – An Update

You will remember that I wrote a few weeks ago about the proposed Clinical Trial Regulation which will replace EU Directive 2001/20/EC. Specifically, myself and many of my industry records management colleagues were extremely concerned about Amendment 60 which was being put forward by the UK Rapporteur, Ms. Glenis Willmott. Amendment 60 revised the wording of the proposed Regulation from:

“Unless other Union legislation requires archiving for a longer period, the sponsor and the investigator shall archive the content of the clinical trial master file for at least five years after the end of the clinical trial. However, the medical files of subjects shall be archived in accordance with national legislation.” to

The sponsor and the investigator shall archive the content of the clinical trial master file for an indefinite period of time after concluding the clinical trial. However, the medical files of subjects shall be archived in accordance with national legislation. If the sponsor is unable to archive the master file, it may be archived in the EU database.

At the ENVI Committee meeting on 29th May, a vote was passed which ACCEPTED amendment 60. Unless the wording is amended again as the draft Regulation passes through parliamentary scrutiny, we look forward to the prospect of ALL documents associated with a clinical trial (as defined in EU Directive 2005/28/EC) being retained permanently. Let’s just be clear about what this means. A fairly small-scale clinical trial that I was recently doing some work for involved about 500 patients spread across 50 trial sites. We estimated that this would generate in the region of 12,000 documents, totalling some 65,000 pages. Another study I was recently associated with – a large scale Phase III study – has generated in excess of 385,000 documents….. for a single study!!!

Now, how about we take a look at the EU Clinical Trials Registry to see how this extrapolates across Europe. There were 2,348 Phase I – Phase III clinical trials registered during 2012. Let’s say for argument’s sake that across these 3 phases an average clinical trial generates 10,000 documents (not an unreasonable estimate), we have a storage requirement for nearly 25 million documents. To be kept ‘in perpetuity’ just for a single years’ clinical trials. Will this make Europe a competitive place to run clinical trials when the FDA have a records retention requirement of 2 years following drug approval?

As with many other sectors of industry, clinical trials are becoming increasingly digital in format. So just how exactly do the ENVI committee propose that these 25 million documents are going to be managed electronically in excess of 50 years? Have they not heard of software obsolescence? It is impossible to open a Microsoft Powerpoint file created just a few years ago in Powerpoint 95 due to software/file format obsolescence issues! I love the throw-away line at the end of the amended text “If the sponsor is unable to archive the master file, it may be archived in the EU database”. I can’t wait for the EU to create a database that is capable of (a) managing this volume of data, (b) managing trial master files containing the enormous variation of documents, file formats, naming conventions etc that exist across the industry, and (c) maintaining the content in accessible and readable format in perpetuity.

Come on guys, I think it is time for a re-think!

Posted in e-records, Regulations, TMF | 1 Comment

An eTMF is For Life, Not Just For Christmas! Achieving Archive Compliance

This is the title of the next webinar that we are involved with.

This topical webinar will be structured as follows:

karenreddingKaren Redding of Phlexglobal will present the current eTMF industry status and how eArchiving is not being addressed;



Eldin RammellEldin Rammell of Rammell Consulting will explain why an eArchiving strategy is so important, especially in light of the EMA TMF Reflection Paper and proposed EU Clinical Trial Regulation, the benefits of eArchiving and the various approaches; and


matthewaddisMatthew Addis of Arkivum will talk about the challenges of meeting regulatory requirements, and how to meet these challenges through an active archiving strategy.



In conclusion, Karen will give a brief overview of the integration between PhlexEview, (Phlexglobal’s eTMF) and the Arkivum digital preservation solution to provide an effective long-term e-Archiving solution.

Don’t miss this FREE webinar on Wednesday June 19th 2013 at 4pm BST. Space is limited so please reserve your seat now. If you have any queries about the event, please do contact us.

Posted in e-records, Technology, TMF, Training