Holly Fernandez Lynch
Today, the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center (MRCT) at Harvard University and the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School are co-hosting a daylong conference on “Post-Trial Responsibilities: Ethics and Implementation.” We’ll be live blogging the conference here at Bill of Health, and video/slides from the conference will be available soon.
The conference was kicked off by Mark Barnes, co-director of MRCT, who pointed to two key statements of ethics that refer to post-trial responsibilities, the Declaration of Helsinki’s Paragraph 34 (DoH) – which Mark referred to as “mysterious,” as it could not in practice mean what it literally says – and the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences Guideline 10 (CIOMS).
Mark went on to describe the wide spectrum of issues that may be encapsulated in the simple phrase “post-trial access” – for example, over what period of time is access provided, is it provided for chronic diseases or only transient conditions, is it necessary only till a patient is stabilized or for longer, is it a lifetime commitment, does it apply only to research subjects themselves or broader research communities? How much evidence should we demand of benefit before imposing post-trial responsibilities? Exactly what should be provided – only the study drug, whatever was offered to the control group, other supportive care? Must post-trial access be free of charge? What about improved infrastructure, knowledge, and other benefits as components of post-trial access? Our goal for the day will be to clarify the ways in which the Declaration of Helsinki, the CIOMS guidelines, and other ethical standards and regulatory requirements require additional guidance for practical application to the complex real-life circumstances of clinical trials.
The conference’s first panel – “Setting the Stage” – had the objective of introducing current ethical and regulatory approaches, as well as key controversies. The panel was kicked off by Christine Grady (NIH), who gave a talk on the ethics of post-trial responsibilities, including history, models, agreements, and controversies. Christine explained that compared to the very clear articulation of researchers’ responsibilities before and during a trial, they have very little guidance on what should happen when a trial is over. Indeed, they had no guidance whatsoever until the 1990s, when there was both an upsurge in international collaborative research, and HIV research more specifically. In that context, new efforts cropped up to minimize the possibility of exploitation in international research, including development of the concepts of responsiveness to local needs and reasonable availability of research benefits, as well as capacity building, collaboration, and community engagement.