Clinical trials are closely supervised by appropriate regulatory authorities. All studies involving a medical or therapeutic intervention on patients must be approved by a supervising ethics committee before permission is granted to run the trial. The local ethics committee has discretion on how it will supervise noninterventional studies (observational studies or those using already collected data). In the US, this body is called the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Most IRBs are located at the local investigator's hospital or institution, but some sponsors allow the use of a central (independent/for profit) IRB for investigators who work at smaller institutions.
To be ethical, researchers must obtain the full and informed consent of participating human subjects. (One of the IRB's main functions is to ensure potential patients are adequately informed about the clinical trial.) If the patient is unable to consent for him/herself, researchers can seek consent from the patient's legally authorized representative. In California, the state has prioritized the individuals who can serve as the legally authorized representative.
In some US locations, the local IRB must certify researchers and their staff before they can conduct clinical trials. They must understand the federal patient privacy (HIPAA) law and good clinical practice. The International Conference of Harmonisation Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice is a set of standards used internationally for the conduct of clinical trials. The guidelines aim to ensure the "rights, safety and well being of trial subjects are protected".
The notion of informed consent of participating human subjects exists in many countries all over the world, but its precise definition may still vary.
Informed consent is clearly a 'necessary' condition for ethical conduct but does not 'ensure' ethical conduct. The final objective is to serve the community of patients or future patients in a best-possible and most responsible way. However, it may be hard to turn this objective into a well-defined, quantified, objective function. In some cases this can be done, however, for instance, for questions of when to stop sequential treatments (see Odds algorithm), and then quantified methods may play an important role.
Additional ethical concerns are present when conducting clinical trials on children (pediatrics).
Read more about this topic: Clinical Trial
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