Hiring a Pharmacovigilance Consultant: A Starter Guide

Product safety is paramount in the highly regulated and complex world of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Companies often face numerous challenges in maintaining robust pharmacovigilance (PV) systems, including evolving regulatory requirements, resource constraints, and the need for specialized expertise.

This is where PV consultants play a crucial role.

Need pharmacovilgance consulting support? The FDA Group is your ideal partner for ensuring the safety and compliance of your pharmaceutical and medical device products. Our team of experienced consultants, including former FDA professionals, brings unparalleled expertise to every aspect of pharmacovigilance.

Learn more about our PV services »

What are consultants useful for in pharmacovigilance?

Here at The FDA Group, we regularly lend consultants to firms for several PV projects and needs.

Here are just a few:

  • Pharmacovigilance System Development and Maintenance — Includes creating and updating SOPs, authoring safety data exchange agreements, maintaining company core datasheets (CCDS), managing safety databases, supporting global safety committee activities, and designing PV quality management systems.
  • Operational PV Support — Encompasses employee PV training, handling safety information, managing adverse events, creating educational materials, supporting clinical trials, conducting audits, performing literature surveillance, managing medical information, and preparing aggregate safety reports.
  • Advanced PV Consulting — Provides strategic oversight and specialized expertise in signal management, risk management plans (RMP) and REMS, benefit-risk communications, regulatory inspection support, safety variations and urgent safety restrictions, benefit-risk analysis, and QPPV office services. 

What are the advantages of using consultants for pharmacovigilance?

In our experience, Companies often prefer consultants over full-time employees for their practicality and efficiency. Here's why:

Here's what we hear about what makes consultants ideal much of the time:

  • Specialized Expertise — PV consultants bring deep, current knowledge of regulations and best practices. For instance, a consultant's specialized expertise can be invaluable when navigating the intricacies of specific regulations and its impact on something like adverse event reporting.
  • Flexibility — Consultants allow companies to scale efforts as needed without long-term commitments. A pharmaceutical company launching a new drug might engage consultants for intensive safety monitoring during the critical post-launch period, then scale back once the safety profile is established.
  • Immediate Impact — Experienced consultants can hit the ground running. When a company needs to implement a new safety signal detection system quickly, consultants can deploy proven methodologies without the learning curve of new hires.
  • Compliance Assurance — Staying current with regulatory changes is a full-time job in itself. Consultants help companies navigate complex compliance landscapes, such as adapting to the FDA's evolving requirements for Real-World Evidence in safety assessments.
  • Cost-Effectiveness — Paying for specific services as needed is often more economical than maintaining full-time staff. This approach can significantly reduce overhead costs for smaller biotech firms or those with fluctuating PV needs.
  • Fresh Perspectives — External consultants provide objective assessments, often spotting improvement areas that internal teams might miss. This could involve identifying inefficiencies in the adverse event processing workflow or suggesting innovative approaches to benefit-risk assessment.

How can we integrate consultants into our pharmacovigilance program?

Integrating pharmacovigilance (PV) consultants into your organization requires a strategic approach to maximize their impact and ensure the seamless execution of PV activities. Below is a detailed guide with common challenges, expert-level insights, practical context, examples, prescriptive actions, and pitfalls to avoid.

1. Define Clear Objectives and Scope

While setting clear objectives is crucial, it's often not enough to simply state a goal like "reduce processing time by 50%." In our experience working with global pharmaceutical companies, the most successful integrations occur when objectives are multi-faceted and aligned with broader organizational goals.

For example, a more comprehensive objective might be:

"Enhance our pharmacovigilance system to reduce adverse event processing time by 50% within six months, while simultaneously improving data quality by implementing AI-assisted case processing, ultimately positioning us for successful expansion into the European market."

We recommend:

  • Conduct a comprehensive PV system audit, including a deep dive into your current case processing workflow. The most advanced teams use tools like process mining software to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
  • Organize a cross-functional workshop involving PV, regulatory affairs, clinical development, and IT teams to align on objectives and potential impacts.
  • Develop a detailed project charter that outlines not just the what, but the why behind each objective. This helps consultants understand the broader context and make more informed decisions.

2. Identify Key Areas for Integration

When identifying areas for consultant integration, it's crucial to look beyond obvious pain points. In our work with a mid-size biotech company, we discovered that their most significant compliance risks weren't in adverse event management (as initially thought) but in their signal detection processes.

One firm we worked with was struggling with regulatory inspections. Upon deeper analysis, we found that while their day-to-day PV processes were strong, they lacked a robust system for trending and analyzing cumulative safety data. This gap was leading to delayed signal detection and inadequate responses during inspections.

We recommend:

  • Conduct a risk assessment using methodologies like Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to identify high-risk areas in your PV system.
  • Analyze your company's product portfolio and pipeline. Are you moving into new therapeutic areas or geographies? This should inform where you need additional expertise.
  • Review past inspection findings and audit reports. Look for patterns and recurring issues that consultants can help address.
  • Implement a data-driven approach: Use analytics tools to identify areas where your PV system is underperforming compared to industry benchmarks.

3. Ensure Smooth Onboarding

Poor onboarding can lead to misunderstandings, misaligned expectations, and delayed project starts. A structured onboarding process helps consultants quickly understand your organization’s PV landscape, culture, and specific needs. Provide consultants with access to key documents, introduce them to team members, and brief them on ongoing projects and challenges.

We recommend:

  • Create a comprehensive "PV Landscape" document that outlines your product portfolio, ongoing clinical trials, key regulatory commitments, and recent or upcoming significant events (e.g., product launches, major label changes).
  • Develop role-specific onboarding tracks. A consultant focusing on signal detection will need different onboarding than one working on inspection readiness.
  • If possible, implement a "buddy system" where each consultant is paired with an experienced in-house team member for the first month to immerse themselves.
  • Conduct simulations or tabletop exercises to familiarize consultants with your processes quickly. For example, walk through a mock serious adverse event from receipt to regulatory submission.

4. Fully Leverage Their Expertise

Consultants often bring valuable cross-industry experience that can be leveraged beyond their immediate assignment. A consultant we deployed for signal detection had previously worked with a company that had successfully implemented a novel approach to social media monitoring for adverse events. We expanded their role to help us develop a similar capability, significantly enhancing our ability to detect emerging safety signals.

We recommend:

  • Schedule an "innovation session" where consultants share insights from their previous experiences and brainstorm how these could be applied to your organization.
  • Create cross-functional project teams that include both consultants and in-house staff to tackle complex PV challenges.
  • Encourage consultants to challenge the status quo. Implement a "fresh eyes" review, where consultants critique your processes after their first month.
  • Leverage consultants' networks. This is a huge blind spot for many teams. Consultants often have connections with vendors, regulators, and other industry experts that can be valuable.

5. Establish Effective Communication Channels

Communication in PV isn't just about project updates; it's about efficiently ensuring critical safety information flows.

Here's a simple tiered comms system:

  • Daily stand-ups for tactical updates
  • Weekly cross-functional meetings for strategic alignment
  • Monthly steering committee reviews for high-level oversight
  • An always-on emergency channel for critical safety issues

We recommend:

  • Implement a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix for all key PV processes, clearly defining the role of consultants.
  • Set up a dedicated Slack channel or Microsoft Teams team for real-time communication on PV issues.
  • Establish clear escalation pathways for critical safety issues, ensuring consultants know exactly when and how to raise red flags.
  • Implement visual management tools like Kanban boards (physical or digital) to provide at-a-glance status updates on key projects and metrics.

6. Monitor and Evaluate Performance

Effective performance monitoring in pharmacovigilance goes beyond simple metrics. It requires a nuanced understanding of how consultant activities impact overall PV system performance and regulatory compliance.

For example, a mid-size pharma company might implement a balanced scorecard approach for consultant evaluation that includes not just quantitative metrics like case processing time but also qualitative assessments of their contributions to process improvements and knowledge transfer. A consultant might score average on speed metrics but excel in improving data quality, which can be shown to impact signal detection capabilities significantly—with data.

We recommend:

  • Develop a multi-dimensional performance evaluation framework that includes:
    • Quantitative metrics (e.g., case processing time, number of signals detected)
    • Quality metrics (e.g., accuracy of case assessment, completeness of signal evaluations)
    • Impact metrics (e.g., successful inspection outcomes, regulatory submission quality)
    • Innovation metrics (e.g., number of process improvement suggestions implemented)
    • Collaboration metrics (e.g., effectiveness in knowledge transfer, team feedback)
  • Conduct regular "impact assessment" meetings where consultants present their work's tangible impact on the PV system.
  • Use advanced analytics to correlate consultant activities with key PV outcomes if needed. For example, analyze how improvements in case processing relate to signal detection timeliness.

7. Cultivate a Collaborative Culture

Creating a truly collaborative culture in PV requires more than just team-building activities. It involves fostering an environment where the free flow of safety information and expertise is seen as a critical business function.

When bringing in PV consultants, a team might face significant resistance from in-house staff. A great way to overcome this is through a "two-way mentorship" program. Experienced in-house staff mentor consultants on company-specific processes, while consultants provide mentorship on industry best practices and emerging trends. This approach not only improves collaboration but also accelerates the PV system's maturation.

We recommend:

  • Implement a "PV Innovation Lab" — a regular forum where consultants and in-house staff collaborate on solving complex PV challenges.
  • Develop a "skill-sharing matrix" that maps out the expertise of both consultants and in-house staff. Use this to create cross-functional teams that leverage diverse skill sets.
  • Implement a "no-blame" culture specifically for PV. Encourage open reporting of issues or near-misses without fear of repercussion.
  • Create a "PV Ambassador" program where consultants work closely with different departments (e.g., Clinical, Regulatory, Marketing) to improve understanding of PV across the organization.
  • Organize regular "safety share" sessions where team members (both consultants and in-house) present interesting cases or signals, fostering a culture of continuous learning.

8. Plan for Knowledge Transfer

Effective knowledge transfer in PV is not just about documenting processes; it's about ensuring that critical safety insights and decision-making rationales are retained within the organization.

A large biotech might develop a "PV Decision Library"  — a searchable database of key safety decisions, signal evaluations, and regulatory interactions. Consultants would be required to contribute to this library, providing not just the what of their work but the why behind critical decisions. This becomes an invaluable resource for training new staff and ensuring consistency in the approach to safety issues.

We recommend:

  • Implement a "shadowing" program where in-house staff work closely with consultants on complex tasks, with structured debrief sessions to ensure knowledge capture.
  • Develop interactive e-learning modules based on consultant expertise. These should go beyond process training to include case studies and decision-making scenarios.
  • Create a "PV Expertise Map" outlining each consultant's specific knowledge areas. Use this to guide targeted knowledge transfer activities.
  • Implement a "consultancy wind-down" phase in all projects. This should be a structured period where consultants focus primarily on knowledge transfer and capability building.
  • Develop a "living" best practices guide that consultants continually update with insights and learnings from their work.

9. Ensure Regulatory Alignment and Inspection Readiness

Consultants can be crucial in ensuring your PV system remains aligned with evolving regulatory requirements and is always inspection-ready.

We deployed a consultant with extensive regulatory agency experience to conduct a mock inspection of a PV system. This exercise uncovered several areas of potential non-compliance that weren't visible in our day-to-day operations, allowing the team to address these issues proactively before the actual inspection.

We recommend:

  • Establish a "Regulatory Intelligence" function, leveraging consultant expertise to interpret and implement new PV regulations proactively.
  • Implement regular "inspection readiness" exercises, simulating different types of regulatory inspections.
  • Develop a "regulatory interaction playbook" that guides how to manage agency communications, leveraging consultant experience with different regulatory bodies.
  • Create a "PV Policy Review Board" that includes key consultants, tasked with regularly reviewing and updating PV policies to ensure they remain state-of-the-art and compliant.

Final thoughts and next steps

Integrating pharmacovigilance consultants into your organization is a complex but potentially transformative process. It can significantly enhance your PV capabilities, ensure regulatory compliance, and ultimately contribute to patient safety. Success lies in strategic planning, clear communication, and a willingness to embrace new perspectives and innovations.

Remember, the goal is not just to temporarily bolster your PV capabilities, but to create a more robust, efficient, and innovative PV system that can adapt to future challenges. By thoughtfully integrating consultants and leveraging their expertise, you can transform your approach to pharmacovigilance, ultimately enhancing patient safety and your company's competitive position.

Remain open to new ideas, be prepared to challenge existing processes, and always keep the end goal in mind: a pharmacovigilance system that meets regulatory requirements and sets new standards for excellence in patient safety.

Need pharmacovigilance consulting support? We can help.


The FDA Group offers comprehensive pharmacovigilance consulting services to life science companies, providing access to highly skilled consultants, many of whom are former FDA employees. Our experts specialize in detecting, evaluating, understanding, and preventing adverse effects of pharmaceutical and medical device products throughout their lifecycle.

Our PV services include, but are not limited to:

Pharmacovigilance System Development and Maintenance

This area focuses on building and maintaining effective PV systems, including:

  • Developing and reviewing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Creating and maintaining Safety Data Exchange Agreements
  • Managing Company Core Datasheets (CCDS)
  • Providing safety database management support
  • Overseeing global safety committee activities
  • Designing and maintaining PV Quality Management Systems

Operational Pharmacovigilance Support

This area covers day-to-day PV activities, such as:

  • Managing safety information from various sources
  • Handling adverse event management and reporting
  • Supporting clinical trials with safety-related documentation
  • Conducting pharmacovigilance audits
  • Managing medical information and inquiries
  • Preparing aggregate safety reports (e.g., DSUR, PSUR, PADER)

Advanced Pharmacovigilance Consulting

This area offers strategic oversight and specialized expertise, including:

  • Signal management for identifying and mitigating potential risks
  • Developing Risk Management Plans (RMPs) and Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS)
  • Providing benefit-risk communications to competent authorities
  • Supporting regulatory inspections
  • Offering high-level strategic PV assessments and analyses
  • Managing safety variations and urgent safety restrictions

Contact us and get the conversation started.

Our resources can be utilized to meet the wide range of pharmacovigilance and postmarket requirements, as well as to support staffing assignments, lead and manage related activities, bridge staffing gaps, and provide long-term or interim leadership.

Please submit the form below to learn more about fulfilling specific pharmacovigilance resourcing needs. We help clients secure a wide variety of life science resources for both contracted and direct hire engagements with the perfect combination of qualifications, experience, and motivation for succeeding in challenging and demanding projects. We will respond within one business day.

Topics: Compliance Consulting