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Government Funded Research Is It That Different


Pharmaceutical Executive

In December 2011, the President’s Bioethics Commission released its “Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research“

In December 2011, the President’s Bioethics Commission released its “Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research“. The report was ordered by President Obama following an October 2010 revelation that the US Public Health Service supported unethical research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948 that involved intentionally exposing thousands of Guatemalans to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent.

The Bioethics Commission was then tasked to oversee a thorough fact-finding investigation into the specifics of the studies, as well as assure that current rules for research participants protect people from harm or unethical treatment, domestically as well as internationally.

The final report, available at this

and specifies 14 changes to current practice to better protect research subjects, as well as how the government should improve the tracking its over 18 federal agencies that follow the common rule for research programs with taxpayer dollars.

So again, this is specifically for government-funded studies and you can read all the different arms that receive funds, including the CIA, but of course the largest is the NIH. One of the Commission recommendations is:

“…. each federal department or agency supporting research with human subjects maintain a core set of data for their research programs that includes the title and lead investigator of each project, the location of each study, and the amount appropriated for the research. Each office should aid the public in learning more about the government’s research efforts by developing or improving publicly available electronic systems or releasing information through a government-wide system. To support these efforts, the Commission suggested that the Office for Human Research Protections or another office should administer a central web-based portal that links to each individual department or agency system. In addition, the government should consider developing a unified federal research database, which may ultimately be more cost-effective and efficient.”

Is it me or does it not sound like the “central web-based portal” or the “unified federal research database” be clinicaltrials.gov?

While the Commission could not easily identify how many research participants were enrolled in federal research (and not all of this is drug/interventional studies), they rounded it off to about 50,000 people.

So in doing the math, I’m assuming there are well over 18 biopharmaceutical companies that are conducting privately-funded research and are required by law to input this information into the clinicaltrials.gov online web database. And when these many biopharma companies fail to comply with this rule, as many critics will publicly announce as often as possible, the biopharma industry suffers another public perception setback and a trust issue.

In the meantime, wouldn’t managing 18 separate departments be akin to managing 18 privately-funded entitites? Each with their own culture, set of employees and roles, data and technology practices, and require that it happen within a certain timeframe?

I think so. I don’t think there need be separate rules for protecting human subjects in research. Nor should there be separate ways to educate the public on how to better serve their health or medical understanding. It’s everybody’s problem, private and public.

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