Researchers have long complained that ethics approval processes for studies involving multiple institutions are time-consuming, overly complicated, and often redundant.
Historically, research ethics boards (REBs) at each participating hospital or university would conduct their own reviews of proposed studies--duplicating and sometimes conflicting with each other's processes and verdicts.
Canada's Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics is proposing to dramatically simplify that process by mandating that all applications for multisite, minimal risk studies undergo an initial review by a single REB of record whose verdict and rationale would then be circulated to other participating sites for their review and approval.
During consultations on the proposal, some researchers welcomed the change as necessary and long overdue.
According to Hilary Bergsieker, chair of the University of Waterloo Human Research Ethics Board, the proposal could result in "substantial savings in time for researchers" and reduce conflicts arising from "minor local differences" in the interpretation of ethics policies.
For example, she noted that the University of Waterloo requires a notice of ethics clearance on all study recruitment materials, but the University of British Columbia strongly discourages such statements as being potentially coercive.
"For almost every single protocol involving our two institutions, we've had to address these differing interpretations, resulting in delays, although eventually mutually approved wording was reached every time."
However, the proposal has met resistance from others involved in research ethics, particularly in jurisdictions that have invested considerable time, energy, and money in developing their own streamlined ethics review processes.
Susan Marlin, president and CEO of Clinical Trials Ontario (CTO), explains that, although there is wide support for harmonizing ethics review processes across Canada,...