We all love hearing about changes to the federal register, amirite? Well celebrate, one and all: last week, a new final version of the “Common Rule” for the protection of human subjects was published by fifteen federal agencies (including DHHS and NSF) in effort to strengthen the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects. The intent is to both enhance protections and reduce administrative burden(!), and here’s what it means to you:
- Consent forms are required a better understanding to provide potential research subjects of a project’s scope, including its risks and benefits, so they can make a more fully informed decision about whether to participate.
- A single institutional review board (IRB) for multi-institutional research studies is required in many cases. (There is substantial flexibility in now allowing broad groups of studies, instead of just specific studies, to be removed from this requirement; this provision is delayed until 2020.)
- Studies on stored identifiable data or identifiable biospecimens allow researchers will have the option of relying on broad consent obtained for future research as an alternative to seeking IRB approval to waive the consent requirement. As under the current rule, researchers will still not have to obtain consent for studies on non-identified stored data or biospecimens. Aside: if you’ve been following along, you’ll note that this is a change of course from earlier intent to apply the principles of informed consent to all biospecimens.
- New exempt categories of research are established based on the level of risk posed to participants. (For example, there is a new exemption for secondary research involving identifiable private information as regulated by and participants protected under HIPAA; the intent is to reduce regulatory burden to allow IRBs to focus their attention on higher risk studies.)
- Continuing review of ongoing research studies is no longer required in instances where such review does little to protect subjects.
- Consent forms for certain federally funded clinical trials are required to be posted on a public website.
The general effective/compliance date of the final rule is January 19, 2018; all studies without initial IRB review as of 1/20/18 will be subject to the new requirements. Any ongoing research at that time (i.e. studies with IRBs approved under the current version of the Common Rule) will continue to be subject to the current, pre-2018 version of the rule unless the university chooses to mandate compliance with the final version. For more on the transition provisions, check out the final rule preamble, as well as Section 101(l) of the regulatory text.
Stay tuned for further guidance; HHS intends to issue direction on specific provisions of the rule changes in the near future.