Harmonizing ethics: An idea whose time has come

31 August 2010

Last year, MSFHR launched a request for a proposal to support harmonized human subject ethics review for researchers involved in multi-centre studies. Such a process is integral to the development of a provincial health research strategy for BC.

Dr. Greg Koski, a physician-investigator at Harvard Medical School who chairs MSFHR's ethics RFP review panel, keenly appreciates the need for such an initiative, and is encouraged by the work so far.

"Ethics harmonization in human research is an idea whose time has come, and the Michael Smith Foundation has taken a major step in catalyzing the process in BC by bringing together the critical players," says Koski. "To encourage a proposal and offer funding has been a major force in moving the initiative forward, and the Foundation's leadership deserves an enormous amount of credit."

The request for a proposal was launched in January 2010 as part of the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative. The need for ethics harmonization within the BC research community became apparent through surveys conducted by MSFHR in 2007. In particular, the surveys highlighted researchers' frustration with existing ethics approval processes that require multiple time-consuming reviews, which they considered a major impediment to research in the province.

"There was a clear message from many stakeholders that a coordinated approach to human subject ethics review would be of tremendous benefit to health researchers and their institutions," says MSFHR President and CEO Dr. John Challis. "We're now taking action to improve the efficiency of the human ethics review process, providing BC with a significant competitive advantage while ensuring the safety and well being of research participants."

Note: In summer 2010, funding for the proposal received — from a team of BC organizations with research ethics boards — was approved by the MSFHR Board subject to the team's providing an addendum to their proposal. The addendum is to address the review panel's recommendation that the proposal reflect a phased approach with the initial emphasis on streamlining review processes for multi-site clinical and population health research.

  • In BC, there are 23 independent, organization or institution-based Research Ethics Boards.
  • In 2006 (latest figures available):

    • 4,465 new ethics review applications received by Research Ethics Boards
    • 13,593 protocols were reviewed by Research Ethics Boards