BC moves closer to coordinated ethics review

A new agreement signed by the eight partner institutions of the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative (BCEHI) represents an important first step towards a coordinated provincial approach to ethical review of human-subject health research.

The “reciprocity agreement” signed at the end of May by the BCEHI partners authorizes the 14 ethics review boards under their jurisdiction to collaborate on the development of streamlined ethics review processes between institutions. The agreement commits the partner institutions to create a framework that will eliminate duplication in the ethics review of health research that spans jurisdictions.

Under current guidelines, multi-site studies are subjected to full review by each applicable ethics board. These multiple, time-consuming reviews create duplication for researchers resulting in delays in initiating studies in multiple jurisdictions in BC.

The new agreement encourages the partners’ research ethics boards to collaborate on processes that will allow for a “delegated” (versus full board) review at a board’s discretion if an application has already undergone full review by another jurisdiction’s board. The degree of collaboration will be based on relationships between institutions, perceived risks of a given study, and institutional policies.

The BCEHI partners are now working on operationalizing the reciprocity agreement across their research ethics boards.

“This is an important milestone in the ethics harmonization process,” said BCEHI director Patricia Tait. “This agreement is a step toward making ethics review in BC more effective and efficient while laying the groundwork for the development of a centralized review process for multi-jurisdictional health research studies.”

The BCEHI partners are continuing to work together on the development of a model for centralized ethics review, with the ultimate goal of achieving a single review of a multi-jurisdictional study leading to approval.

Establishing a centralized, collaborative ethics review model using a single electronic platform would place BC among the leaders in multi-jurisdictional research ethics review in Canada.