Regulatory Compliance Versus Real Compliance

Published on: 
BioPharm International, BioPharm International, October 2022, Volume 35, Issue 10
Pages: 54, 52

Susan J. Schniepp, distinguished fellow at Regulatory Compliance Associates, addresses the difference between regulatory compliance and real compliance.

Q: I just attended a meeting where someone talked about the concept of real compliance. Can you explain what they were referring to?

A: This is a great question because I believe there is a difference between regulatory compliance and real compliance. Let’s start with what we mean by regulatory compliance. The current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) regulations for drugs contain minimum requirements for the methods, facilities, and controls used in the manufacturing, processing, labeling, and packaging of drug products.

In the United States, some of the laws are delineated in section 501(a)(2)(B) of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which states, “A drug shall be deemed to be adulterated if the methods used in, or the facilities or controls used for, its manufacture, processing, packaging, or holding do not conform to or are not operated or administered in conformity with current good manufacturing practice to assure that such drug meets the requirements of this [Act] as to safety and has the identity and strength, and meets the quality and purity characteristics, which it purports or is represented to possess” (1).

US Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 211 establishes the regulations based on the law. The regulations contained in 21 CFR 211 do not tell you how to specifically meet these regulatory requirements but, rather, tell you what is expected of your quality management system in order to achieve compliance to the regulations. The goal of regulatory compliance is to satisfy the regulations to achieve a satisfactory inspectional outcome.

Real compliance is how a company interprets the regulatory requirements and expectations and applies them to their specific operations. Real compliance is rooted in a commitment to quality at all levels of an organization. A real compliance approach takes a high-level view of quality and allows the organization to put in controls and oversight that helps prevent deviations from occurring. It also provides a better understanding of the impact of a deviation when they do occur during manufacturing. Organizations that adopt a quality-based philosophy (real compliance) minimize the impact when deviations of a serious nature occur. Real compliance is the practical application of a quality management system and how it is integrated in the facility. The goal of real compliance is to achieve a sustainable state of control at the facility based on scientific principles, best practices, and continual improvement efforts. The best way to explain the difference between regulatory compliance and real compliance is to perform a thorough compare-and-contrast exercise.

The regulations clearly require companies to have written procedures that are in the form of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The common language used in 21 CFR 211 to indicate SOPs are required can be exemplified by 21 CFR 211.22 “Responsibilities of quality control unit”, which states “(d) The responsibilities and procedures applicable to the quality control unit shall be in writing; such written procedures shall be followed” (2). This type of wording can be found is sections of 21 CFR 211 governing personnel qualifications, building and facilities, equipment, production and process control, labeling issuance, warehousing procedures, etc. The regulatory requirement is met by having SOPs, but real compliance is met having SOPs that reflect your operations. For example, if you outsource product testing you would not need an SOP on how to investigate out-of-specification (OOS) results because you are not performing that activity. Instead, you might replace it with an SOP describing how you work with your contract test laboratory when they are investigating an OOS result associated with your product. Another example between regulatory compliance and real compliance is just having a complaint department vs. having a complaint department that is manned by employees that understand their responsibilities and are trained in complaint handling best practices. Another comparison demonstrating the difference between regulatory compliance and real compliance is having an organization chart that separates quality and operations vs. having that same organization chart supported by SOPs that demonstrate quality has the responsibility and authority to operate independently.


Here’s a more practical example of regulatory compliance vs. real compliance. US 21 CFR 211.25(a) requires “Each person engaged in the manufacture, processing, packing, or holding of a drug product shall have education, training, and experience or any combination thereof, to enable that person to perform the assigned functions” (2). A regulatory compliance approach would be to offer every employee annual GMP training and document their attendance. A real compliance approach would be to provide effective training to the employees by assessing their comprehension of the material and offering follow-up training as necessary.

Another practical example of regulatory compliance vs. real compliance is examining how a company approaches investigations. A strictly regulatory compliance approach to an investigation results in a firm not determining the true root cause of an issue because the focus is on completing the investigation in a self-imposed time frame instead of focusing on the quality of the investigation. Real compliance organizations focus on determining the true root cause(s) and using that information across their manufacturing facility to drive continuous improvements and prevent recurrence of the deviation that prompted the investigation.

Taking a regulatory compliance only approach to operations may be less expensive in the short term, but in the long term it will most likely result in more expenditure to fix the problems that could have been avoided if a real compliance approach was implemented throughout
the organization.


  1. US Code, Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,
    Section 501(a)(2)(B).
  2. US 21 CFR 211.

About the author

Susan J. Schniepp is distinguished fellow at Regulatory Compliance Associates.

Article details

BioPharm International
Volume 35, Number 10
October 2022
Pages 54, 52


When referring to this article, please cite it as S.J. Schniepp, “Regulatory Compliance Versus Real Compliance,” BioPharm International 35 (10) (2022).