Developing new treatments for diseases often requires large numbers of clinical research participants enrolled in the same study at numerous geographical sites. These multisite clinical trials are well-positioned to discover whether a promising therapeutic is safe and effective, and may provide medical professionals with the information needed for treating their patients. However, the initiation of such studies may be delayed because each site typically relies on its own Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to provide ethics reviews of the risks and benefits of the proposed research.
The NIH is leading policy and programmatic initiatives to streamline this overly cumbersome process. NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) announced that all Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program sites have signed on to the NCATS Streamlined, Multisite, Accelerated Resources for Trials (SMART) IRB authorization agreement. This agreement—which now includes a total of more than 150 top medical research institutions—will enable all participating study sites to rely on the ethics review of one IRB for each study, making it possible to initiate multisite studies within weeks instead of months. For patients waiting to enroll in a study, this could make a life-saving difference.
The SMART IRB authorization agreement serves as a model to help investigators adhere to the NIH’s policy on single IRB use for multisite studies. This policy was designed to improve IRB efficiencies while ensuring the protection of research participants so that research can proceed expeditiously.
The authorization agreement effort was led by Harvard Catalyst, University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, and Dartmouth Synergy. Through these institutions, a team of NCATS-supported SMART IRB ambassadors facilitated and provided critical guidance and support to assist institutions in joining and implementing the SMART IRB authorization agreement.
“This milestone is a giant step toward a nationwide model for greater efficiency in IRB review, which is critical to getting more treatments to more patients more quickly,” said NCATS Director Christopher P. Austin, M.D. “It was made possible by the teamwork of hundreds of experts across the country who worked together to achieve what was thought to be impossible even a few years ago.”
In addition, the SMART IRB authorization agreement will provide the foundation for NCATS’ Trial Innovation Network central IRBs. The Trial Innovation Network is a collaborative CTSA Program initiative designed to address critical roadblocks in clinical research, and to optimize and streamline the clinical trial and studies process.
Next steps for the NCATS SMART IRB Platform include the development of education, training and harmonization of best practices for a single IRB review.