Informed Consent & Research Ethics Discussed at WIRB Annual Training Seminar

Seminar on Informed Consent and Research Ethics

WIRB Training Seminar was Held in Seattle, WA

“Obtaining consent does not make an unethical study ethical,” Dr. Marjorie Speers told the Annual Training Seminar of the Western Institutional Review Board (WIRB). Speers is the President and CEO of AAHRPP (Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Program). She pointed out that, although many IRBs focus on the informed consent process, protocol design is an equally important ethical consideration. The focus of this year’s seminar was informed consent and the speakers’ presentations led to some lively discussion on consent forms, protocol design, research in the developing world, and financial disclosure.

The seminar, which WIRB opens to research professionals in the Puget Sound, features national experts on bioethics and the regulation of IRBs. Among the speakers were Dr. Speers; Dr. Jerry Menikoff, Director of the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP); Dr. Vincent Ahonkhai, Senior Regulatory Office, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and, Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, Professor of Bioethics and Medicine, Johns Hopkins University. The University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center co-sponsored the seminar with WIRB.

informed consent and research ethics

Simplifying the Informed Consent Process

A recurring theme was the need to shorten consent forms to make them more accessible to research subjects. Dr. Speers referred to most of the required elements of informed consent a “required disclosures,” stating that “disclosures” was a preferrable term. During discussion periods there were several comments that the disclosures had more to do with legal concerns than with involving the research subject in an informed consent process. Dr. Speers stressed that, “too much information is no information.”

Dr. Speers spoke of the need to involve communities as well as the individual research participants. “Communities can be harmed and benefitted by the research,” maintained Speers. “Generally, the public does not understand the drug development process,” Speers said, the aim of gaining new knowledge.

The seminar discussed some humorous examples of researchers not understanding sensibilities in the developing world. For example, informed consent forms frequently use units of measure such as a teaspoon or quarter cup of blood taken for laboratory analysis. However, when the research was in sub-Saharan Africa, because researchers were using units of measurement most common in cooking, potential subjects assumed that the blood was going to be cooked, not analyzed. This led to worries about witchcraft, which was clearly not the intent of the researchers.

WIRB invited a research participant, Debbbie, to address the seminar. Debbie had participated in many cystic fibrosis studies in the past 20 years. She talked about how access to healthcare and money were her primary motivations for participating in a clinical trial. She had lost her health insurance a few months before enrolling in the study. Then she developed pneumonia. During the run-in phase of the study there was a “cleanout” using antibiotics, a common practice in CF studies. Participating in the clinical trial directly benefitted her healthcare. One of the reasons she enjoyed research participation was the access to healthcare and cutting edge developments in the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

The Influence of Money on Research Ethics

Money was a major topic of conversation, as always at a meeting discussing bioethics. Debbie was asked, “how much of a factor is it?” Quite a lot, she replied. Speakers discussed the question from the perspective of financial disclosure. Dr. Speers said that any financial interest by a member of the research team should be an expected disclosure. Others pointed out that the only type of financial relationship that significantly affected potential research participants was when the researchers had an equity interest in the research drug. But not always in ways you might expect. One potential subject said that when learning the PI owned stock in the company sponsoring the research, they thought, “the drug must work,” and wanted to participate.

There was one embarrassing moment for quality assurance professionals during a talk by Dr. Maria Greenwald, a researcher from California. She had recently been audited by a sponsor QA auditor who cited her for failing to report “protocol violations” to the IRB. The protocol required periodic laboratory tests for calcium levels, which were a concern for the investigational product.

Research Ethics and Audit Findings on Calcium Levels

Elevated Calcium Levels

When blood tests revealed significantly increased calcium levels for one research subject, Dr. Greenwald ordered laboratory tests at every study visit, more frequently than the protocol required. She considered this necessary for patient safety using her medical judgment, as required by the Form FDA 1572. The auditor disagreed and insisted that she had violated the protocol.

I remember my own inspection training in the FDA Bioresearch Monitoring program. “Never argue the practice of medicine with an MD,” I was told. When Dr. Greenwald said that she ordered the lab tests for patient safety according to her medical judgment, the auditor should have accepted it and merely noted it in her report.

The public seminar concluded with David Forster, the Chief Compliance Officer for WIRB pointing out a three-page informed consent form approved by WIRB during the first year of its existence. It had all of the required elements, or disclosures, and was simple and to the point. He challenged WIRB board members to see if it was possible to return to a clear, simple consent form. Most appeared up to the challenge.

Carl Anderson
GxP Perspectives
02 October 2011


Good Documentation Practice: Thanks to Jerry Chapman at IPQ Publications for this useful resource list for GDP Guidance Canon

Information about IPQ Publications


Next Week: Veteran GCP educator, David Montgomery opines on the
FDA Draft Guidance on Risk-Based Monitoring

Six Weeks Left to Comment on Risk-Based Monitoring!

How to comment to FDA? Here is a two-slide powerpoint presentation on how to comment on the draft guidance document courtesy of CDRH BIMO. Thanks!

Location of Monitoring guidance FR

The Federal Register Docket Number is FDA-2011-D-0597


Just released– FDA Draft Guidance for Medical Devices: De Novo Classification Process (Evaluation of Automatic Class III Designation)
Read the Federal Register Announcement


You can help out GxP Perspectives! Please let your colleagues and friends know about GxP Perspectives and the discussion on risk-based monitoring. I also encourage you to get an email subscription (on the sidebar to your right) or join the GxP Perspectives LinkedIn Group (below).

clinical trials FDA monitoring guidanceThere have been some great comments on the GxP Perspectives LinkedIn group on the Draft FDA Risk-Based Monitoring guidance document and on protocol deviations. There is also a new logo for your viewing pleasure. I invite everyone to join the GxP Perspectives LinkedIn Group and join the discussion.

GxP Perspectives LinkedIn Group

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Pacific Regional Chapter SQA Fall Training 10-11 November at Allergan in Irvine, CA. The training will feature a debate which should be an interesting development in training workshops: Debi Garvin, MS, RQAP-GLP and Paula Parsons: Debate: The role of CAPA in a GLP environment.

PRCSQA Fall Training

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