Industry Voices: Creating a center of excellence in China

Stephanie Wells is the Senior Vice President of the U.S.-based CRO Charles Rivers Laboratories.

With its impressive pool of native scientific talent, large population with unique therapeutic needs, rapidly growing economy, and rising interest in Western products and services, China is emerging as a powerhouse in the life sciences industry. However, in the past year a series of product contamination incidents have beset China's manufacturing industry, emphasizing how vital it is to establish Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) so that China's potential as a quality pharmaceutical producer can be fully realized. As China continues to evolve as a center of R&D innovation, providing GLP-compliant preclinical services is critical to fostering this culture, as well as to helping academia, scientific societies, and biopharmaceutical organizations accelerate their drug development programs. 

To accomplish this goal, it is critical to make a strategic investment in local resources and staff to support these drug development programs. A critical component of this investment is the transfer of expertise and western lessons learned to Chinese talent, including high standards of research, safety, humane care, and good laboratory practices. The goal is not to have a Chinese facility that is staffed and operated from the west, but to create an autonomous operation that meets the same regulatory and quality standards as its Western counterparts.

Creating a Culture of Compliance

The most important aspect of successfully replicating GLP procedures in a new location is to rigorously train the people responsible for carrying out the procedures. It is at this fundamental level that quality can be most easily compromised. In other words, personnel can make or break a GLP facility.

To guarantee the quality of the knowledge and actions of personnel, the staff needs to be well trained. This is accomplished by either training them at other GLP-compliant facilities before placement at a China facility or transferring key management positions from those GLP-compliant facilities to China to train and oversee staff on-site. Ideally, a combination of these plans should be implemented to achieve effective training.

After establishing a base of highly-trained staff members, the GLP standard must be maintained. From the start, the goal of all training should be to create and sustain a culture of compliance, where compliance is not a goal to be reached daily, but the normal state of affairs in which any deviation is immediately evident and quickly corrected. This is maintained through orientation and refresher training, as well as quality assurance initiatives.

An Assurance of Quality

When setting up a facility in a different country, the amount of regulatory complexity that is involved increases significantly. Achieving these new quality standards in addition to meeting domestic GLP standards while in a foreign environment takes both prior planning and continual oversight. 

Much like the aforementioned training, which in itself is an important component for quality assurance, engagement and importation of key quality assurance personnel is essential to the success of any such offshoring venture, and not just after the facility has opened.  Quality assurance starts in the planning stages, with detailed validation plans drawn up by experts in the field. Validation plans should include facility construction, standard operating procedure implementation, and staff training. Throughout the planning stage and all the way through to implementation, it is vital to involve international experts in addition to imported quality assurance personnel, in conjunction with local experts in Chinese regulations and processes. 

Finally, a Quality Assurance unit should be instituted and empowered to monitor compliance once the site is functioning. Quality audits should be conducted frequently, and continued process improvements should be developed and implemented wherever possible to more efficiently meet GLP standards.

An Integration of Local Resources

Although the above two steps involve the importation of a considerable amount of skill and resources, it is also essential that local resources are engaged and incorporated. In fact, eventually a company should come to rely on the resources available locally.

The main reason for importing resources at first is one of trust. The suppliers and vendors that a company normally relies on for support have already been vetted and have proven over time to be dependable. However, for fiscal and geographical reasons, that same pipeline of resources might be impractical or impossible to use on the opposite side of the world. As a result, relying on domestic suppliers as a long-term strategy is untenable. 

Fortunately, China has a great deal to offer with respect to local expertise. In addition to knowledge of local regulations and the prodigious scientific talent of the country, there are plenty of high-quality suppliers and vendors available. However, these local resources need to be subjected to the same quality control scrutiny to which the domestic pipeline is subjected. In fact, by importing resources from domestic sources at first, a company can buy itself the time it needs to properly examine and establish local China suppliers and vendors for GLP-compliance.


To achieve a culture of compliance, effective quality assurance procedures, and the successful integration of dependable local resources, it takes an immense amount of planning before the first brick is laid in a new China venture. To reiterate, the goal is to create a preclinical center of excellence in China and an offshore partner for multinational and local biopharmaceutical companies. By definition, such a goal is best achieved by leveraging domestic experience and importation in the early stages to ensure quality standards are established and replicated. If the appropriate blend of domestic expertise, western compliance processes, and oversight are linked with proper utilization of local resources, an efficient GLP-compliant facility can be established and maintained. Once created and maintained, this will go a long way toward delivering the enormous potential that China offers in helping the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries enhance development of more effective therapies, both in China and the rest of the world. - Stephanie Wells