FDA Clarifies Human Subjects Protection Expectations

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A new guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides welcome direction to sponsors, investigators, and institutional review boards (IRBs) on human subjects protection.

The guidance is one of the agency’s follow-ups to its revisions of the “Common Rule” (Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Research Subjects), which became effective in July 2018. General compliance for the revised Common Rule is mandated to begin in January 2019. The purposes of the Common Rule are to promote “uniformity, understanding, and compliance with human subject protections and to create a uniform body of regulations across federal departments and agencies,” FDA explains in the new guidance.

The requirements contain several new areas of informed consent, including changes relating to the content, organization, and presentation included in the consent form. It also clarifies the process to facilitate a prospective subject’s decision about whether to participate in research. FDA is clarifying the provisions to help sponsors and investigators develop, and IRBs implement, two separate informed consent forms.

The guidance also follows up on earlier FDA rules which allowed IRBs to use expedited review procedures for certain kinds of research involving “no more than minimal risk.” The new guidance includes a list of categories that may qualify for the fast track, while it also makes clear that, as appropriate, IRB reviewers must find that the research on the list involved no more than minimal risk.

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