A rationale for determining, testing, and controlling specific impurities in pharmaceuticals that possess potential for genotoxicity

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2006 Apr;44(3):198-211. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2005.12.001. Epub 2006 Jan 18.


The synthesis of pharmaceutical products frequently involves the use of reactive reagents and the formation of intermediates and by-products. Low levels of some of these may be present in the final drug substance and drug product as impurities. Such chemically reactive impurities may have at the same time the potential for unwanted toxicities including genotoxicity and carcinogenicity and hence can have an impact on product risk assessment. This paper outlines a procedure for testing, classification, qualification, toxicological risk assessment, and control of impurities possessing genotoxic potential in pharmaceutical products. Referencing accepted principles of cancer risk assessment, this document proposes a staged threshold of toxicological concern (TTC) approach for the intake of genotoxic impurities over various periods of exposure. This staged TTC is based on knowledge about tumorigenic potency of a wide range of genotoxic carcinogens and can be used for genotoxic compounds, for which cancer data are limited or not available. The delineated acceptable daily intake values of between approximately 1.5 microg/day for approximately lifetime intake and approximately 120 microg/day for < or = 1 month are virtually safe doses. Based on sound scientific reasoning, these virtually safe intake values do not pose an unacceptable risk to either human volunteers or patients at any stage of clinical development and marketing of a pharmaceutical product. The intake levels are estimated to give an excess cancer risk of 1 in 100,000 to 1 in a million over a lifetime, and are extremely conservative given the current lifetime cancer risk in the population of over 1 in 4 (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html.all.html). The proposals in this document apply to all clinical routes of administration and to compounds at all stages of clinical development. It is important to note that certain types of products, such as those for life-threatening indications for which there are no safer alternatives, allow for special considerations using adaptations of the principles outlined in this paper.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / analysis
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Carcinogens / classification
  • Drug Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / analysis*
  • Mutagens / chemistry
  • Mutagens / classification
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / chemical synthesis*
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations