Being issued with an FDA warning letter can be hugely damaging for a firm. If not properly addressed, warning letters can escalate into significant penalties, injunctions, and importation bans.
Meanwhile, potential customers, clients, and investors will all be turned off if they catch wind of regulatory violations being attached to your brand name. As such, knowing how to respond to a warning letter is crucial for both your company’s reputation and bottom line.
In this article, we'll look at what warning letters are, why they are issued, and how to best respond to them.
What is a warning letter from the FDA?
An FDA warning letter is an official message from the United States Food and Drug Administration that is sent to STEM organizations or manufacturers that have violated any rules related to a federally regulated activity.
The FDA defines a warning letter as “a correspondence that notifies regulated industry about violations that FDA has documented during its inspections or investigations.”
The FDA considers warning letters to be informal and advisory. While it conveys the agency’s stance on a particular matter, it does not commit to enforcement action.
What does an FDA warning letter include?
The warning letter identifies the violation and directs the firm to take corrective action. It also provides directions and a timeframe for the company to inform FDA of its plans to correct the problem. The FDA will then check to ensure the firm’s adjustments have proven adequate.
What violations can a warning letter be issued for?
Warning letters are issued for any violations that directly contravene the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its implementing regulations. This can encompass products, processes, practices, and a host of other activities. Common offenses that result in an FDA warning letter include:
- Violations of FDA good manufacturing practices (GMP)
- Violations of labeling, branding, and classification laws
- Violations of documentation and record-keeping laws
Warning letters with certain violations must be reviewed by their respective FDA Center, such as CDER or CBER.
The full list of issued warning letters can be seen on the FDA’s official website.
Is an FDA Form 483 the same as a warning letter?
Though both require a response within 15 days, a Form 483 and a warning letter are different.
FDA Form 483 (also known as “Inspectional Observations”) is a list of observations issued to manufacturers after an FDA investigator has conducted an authorized inspection. The purpose of the 483 is to highlight potential regulatory problems.
These observations can relate to “any food, drug, device or cosmetic [that] has been adulterated or is being prepared, packed, or held under conditions whereby it may become adulterated or rendered injurious to health.”
After Form 483 is issued by the inspector, the FDA gives the manufacturer chance to respond to the list of observations and outline the corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) that will be taken. If the FDA finds the response unsatisfactory and observes significant violation of the regulations, the FDA may issue a warning letter to the manufacturer.
In this sense, a warning letter represents an escalation of the Form 483 notice — and is issued when potential issues have progressed into outright violations.
How do I respond to an FDA warning letter?
The FDA expects firms or manufacturers that have been issued with a warning letter to take voluntarily compliant and corrective action.
In most cases, companies dedicate teams to the remediation process, usually led by the firm’s head of regulatory affairs, quality assurance, or compliance. Executive management should be involved from the outset to demonstrate the company’s commitment to a successful response.
Remediation is a labor-intensive effort with short timelines. For the teams involved, the process will be like a full-time job. Ideally, a team should be assigned to perform a root cause analysis of each observation in the 483 and/or warning letter. This will keep your response specific and focused. If you are unable to gather the relevant in-house resources and expertise, outside assistance can be sought.
The final response to a 483 or warning letter should be proactive, meticulous, and thorough — addressing corrections to each observation in detail and outlining your company’s ongoing commitment to quality and compliance.
The document should start with a clear summary of what the rest of the document contains, and, in instances where in-house resources are lacking, should explicitly state that external expertise has been engaged. In addition to an overview of your CAPA procedures, the response should also provide a set of actions or programs to prevent a repeat of FDA observations.
Voluntarily including a follow-up plan that provides regular progress reports will also stand your company in good stead with the FDA.
As the document comes together and the deadline looms, enlisting the right people to review the response is critical. Reviewers can be both internal (e.g. executive management, regulatory, quality, legal, compliance, marketing, and R&D) and external (e.g. experienced regulatory advisors/consultants). To ensure nothing is missed and the overall message hits home, multiple reviews are recommended.
It’s also important to consider the logistics of remediation. After all, responses can consist of hundreds of pages — which is a lot of paper if numerous copies require printing.
What happens after an FDA warning letter?
Once a warning letter has been issued, you will have 15 days to respond. The FDA schedules a follow-up inspection for roughly 30 days after it receives the warning letter response.
In this second inspection, the FDA determines the effectiveness and adequacy of the company’s corrective actions. If further violations are observed, enforcement actions (including product recall, seizure, penalties, or prosecution) may be taken without further notice.
Getting advice for FDA warning letter remediation
Receiving an FDA warning letter can feel like a bolt from the blue and threaten to derail your company’s short- and long-term plans. However, facing the problem in an informed and comprehensive manner can help your business get back to doing what it does best.
If you’d like SRG’s support in relation to responding to Form 483 or a warning letter, please get in touch >