Harmonized research ethics review finds a home in BC AHSN

April 9, 2018

The BC Academic Health Science Network is very pleased to announce Board approval to bring the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative (BCEHI) in-house and support it as an established provincial resource to facilitate transformational health system research that crosses institutional and geographical boundaries.

BCEHI is a collaborative effort among British Columbia’s health authorities and four major research universities, who collectively conduct more than 80 percent of the province’s human subject ethics reviews.

The initiative has spearheaded development and implementation of harmonized models to make the ethics review process more timely and efficient, allowing researchers to submit a single ethics application regardless of the number of BC jurisdictions involved in a project. Harmonization also ensures the consistency and quality of ethics review, in compliance with TCPS-2, across all research ethics boards. Provincial harmonization promises to encourage more multi-jurisdictional health research and make BC a more competitive and innovative health research environment.

Since 2016, the partners have been regularly using harmonized models for minimal risk and above minimal risk studies. A shared technology platform to support an online harmonized ethics review process is currently in development and will launch later this year.

This integration into BC AHSN will provide the sustained staffing and infrastructure required to further develop and expand the provincial approach to research ethics harmonization, including partnering with more organizations. Stay tuned for further communication regarding this resource over the coming months.

Development of the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative has been supported collectively by the partner institutions, with core funding from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). In 2016, MSFHR provided additional funding to support ongoing management/sustainability and shared platform development.

Harmonization of Research Ethics Review Having a Positive Impact

BC’s efforts to harmonize health research ethics review is having a positive impact on making BC a more attractive research environment according to a Summative Evaluation of Phase II of the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative (BCEHI). The BCEHI has been successful in developing and implementing two models for research ethics review of minimal risk and above minimal risk studies resulting in more timely and efficient processes.

The BCEHI is a collaboration among the provincial health authorities and BC’s four major universities, who collectively conduct more than 80 percent of the province’s human subject ethics reviews. Phase II of the BCEHI  was funded and facilitated by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) up to March 31, 2016.

Improvements identified in the evaluation ranged from improved communication and collaboration between institutions to reduced duplication of effort, particularly for researchers. Evaluation findings revealed that the majority of researchers who submitted applications for harmonized ethics review had an overall positive experience.

A key strength of the initiative is that it built support from the ground up, and involved those who administer and review ethics applications and would be most affected by change. Evaluation data indicated that this grass roots approach has led to wide acceptance of harmonization.

In addition to these accomplishments, the evaluation identified some challenges. Communication about the harmonization process was not widely disseminated to the research community and many cited the need for a common technology platform to support harmonized reviews.

To provide a bridge to sustainability, MSFHR has funded a one-year BCEHI Project Coordination function and is supporting the development of a shared technology platform.

To read the BCEHI Summative Evaluation see below.

BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative Final Report (PDF)