Letter from the Director - 2020 Q2
We are approaching the 6-month mark for the consolidation of all the legacy IRBs into the new NIH Intramural IRB (NIH IRB). I know that this has not been the easiest transition for the NIH community, and I thank you for your support and patience as we continue to build our new organization. Our goal is to serve the intramural research community by providing optimal protections for our research subjects and facilitating the ethical conduct of the life-saving research conducted here at NIH.
Despite the challenges of an entirely remote workforce, the IRB continues to improve its metrics. The IRB is receiving approximately 400 forms submitted each month. The mean time to approval in May for new studies, amendments and continuing reviews reviewed by the full board were 40, 46 and 28 days respectively. For forms approved by the expedited path, initial reviews were approved in 13 days, amendments in 14 days and continuing reviews in 11 days. We continue to examine our processes to identify areas for increased efficiencies.
We have prioritized all COVID research, and the mean approval times for COVID related research were 4.5 days for initial reviews, 5.7 days for amendments, 2 days for NHSR determinations and 5.5 days for institutional approvals for multi-site research in which we are relying on an external IRB. These truly amazing stats reflect the incredible hard work and dedication of the entire OHSRP staff that have dropped everything and worked many long hours to move these studies from submission to approval. I can’t thank them enough for their dedication.
We have begun exploring the feasibility of replacing iRIS with a new electronic IRB system. A steering committee made up of representatives from the ICs, the Assembly of Scientists and OHSRP have met once to discuss the process for evaluating the current landscape of systems. While we cannot have a committee that has representation from every IC, rest assured that we will be soliciting direct input from the entire research community throughout the entire process. Our goal is to find a system that serves our entire research community well, is forward looking and can grow as clinical research grows at the NIH. I expect that this will be a long process, and in the meantime, we will continue to optimize iRIS.
As I said when I first arrived here, we can only succeed as a human research protection program (HRPP) if we work collaboratively with our investigator community. I am grateful that the investigator community has been so willing to work with us and help us understand how best to serve their needs and those of our research participants. The NIH can be a challenging place from an organizational standpoint. I was asked recently, what do I know now that I wish I knew earlier. My response was that when I arrived here, I thought the NIH was like a University with 27 different departments. I now know it is more like 27 different Universities.
What's New in iRIS?
The iRIS team continues to streamline and make more efficient the iRIS workflow. We thank all of the research community for their feedback in the development and testing of these improvements. Below are some of the improvements made for you in the first half of this year:
Progress Report Form
New combined standalone form that allows users to submit:
- Continuing Reviews
- Study Closures
- Progress Reports
New combined standalone form that replaces the following extraneous forms:
- Investigator Brochure Submission Form
- KSP Changes Form
- Participant Recruitment Materials Form
- Miscellaneous Documents Submission Form
- Short Consent Approval Form
- DSMB or SMC Outcome Letter Submission
- Outside IRB documents for multi-institutional trials
Radiation Safety Review (all ICs are now submitting in iRIS)
Scientific Review (all ICs are now submitting in iRIS)
Training: “Making iRIS work for you”
Sue Tindall, our iRIS Team lead delivered by videocast the May 2020 OHSRP Education Series. Thank you for the heavy attendance and interest in what we have been doing to make iRIS work better for the research community so that you can do what you do best. You can view the recording on the NIH Employee Intranet here.
IRB Operations Update
After the news of the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, the majority of IRBO staff immediately began teleworking. Thank goodness for technology like Skype, MS Teams and WebEx which has allowed IRB Chairs, members, and staff to communicate and work diligently to continue to review vital NIH research projects. On March 17, we began holding all IRB meetings via teleconference and have held approximately 40 meetings in this manner since then. While meeting remotely is not ideal, we are proud to see the strong show of commitment on everyone’s part in stepping up to meet these new challenges.
In fact, as noted above, many IRBO staff saw their workload increase as investigators rushed to submit important new studies related to COVID-19. The IRBO/IRB has now reviewed 26 initial reviews, 16 amendments, 1 exempt study and 13 not human subject research studies focused on new research on SARS-CoV–2/COVID-19 or amendments to modify data collection methods. During this time, the IRBO has received many questions related to conducting remote research and providing extra protections for staff and subjects.
Considerations When Writing a Protocol During the COVID-19 Pandemic
With regard to conducting telehealth as a part of IRB-approved research, please be sure to consider the following:
- Use only telehealth platforms that are approved by NIH IT/your ISSO or the Clinical Center, if applicable
- Your telehealth plan must be described in detail in the protocol and include, as applicable:
- Whether it will involve new subjects or ongoing/existing subjects;
- How you will conduct consent;
- How and when you will communicate with subjects;
- What procedures/treatments may be performed locally; and
- How and when you will communicate with local MDs.
- If you plan to conduct telehealth only temporarily for a few subjects, you can submit your plan on a single patient planned deviation request form rather than having to amend the protocol. (Please note that if the protocol is under an IND, the plan needs to be approved by the IND sponsor prior to IRB submission). When writing your request, be sure to also address:
- What procedures/treatments may be omitted; and
- How omitting procedures/treatments might affect the safety of the subjects and the scientific integrity of the study.
We are currently working on some guidance on conducting informed consent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interim, we want to share some key points, although most of this information is relevant for human subjects research in general:
- The IRB is only allowed to approve a waiver of consent, an alteration of consent, or a waiver of documentation of informed consent when the research meets the criteria described in 45 CFR 46 (pre-2018 Common Rule; 2018 Common Rule). When requesting a waiver or alteration, the PI must address all of the regulatory criteria along with a justification in the protocol.
- A Waiver of Consent refers to a waiver from obtaining consent from subjects before conducting research.
- An Alteration of Consent refers to a consent procedure which omits or alters some or all of the elements of consent in the consent language.
- A Waiver of Documentation refers to a waiver of obtaining a signature on a written or electronic informed consent form as part of the consent procedure.
- Generally speaking, when a research project involves interacting with subjects to conduct research procedures on site, the IRB will not approve a waiver of documentation. The IRB will consider approving a waiver of documentation for minimal risk, in person research in which the subject is known or is likely to be infected with SARS-CoV–2.
- If subjects will never come to the NIH, and the consent process will occur remotely, e.g. over the telephone, the protocol should include a plan to send the consent form to the subject and return of a signed consent document. See NIH HRPP SOP 12 for more information about the requirements associated with telephone consent.
- Electronic Informed Consent (eConsent) refers to using a consent document that includes all the elements of consent in an electronic format. It involves obtaining the subjects’ electronic signature with a time stamp. The use of eConsent for FDA-regulated research must meet additional regulatory requirements. Currently there is no eConsent technology that has been approved for use as part of NIH IRB-approved research. When research will be conducted remotely and entirely online, e.g. completion of an online survey only, it is likely that the IRB would approve a process in which the subject reviews an on-line consent form along a waiver of documentation of informed consent. This is different from what is referred to as eConsent.
- Under the Privacy Act, all subjects, about whom the investigator is collecting identifiers, have to receive the notice in writing. If you intend to conduct an oral consent process and request a waiver of documentation, please note that you will still need to provide a written notice about privacy to your research subjects. Be sure to describe how you will be providing this written notice to subjects in the consent section of your protocol. If your subjects will not be registered as Clinical Center patients, you must consult with your IC Privacy Officer to find out the appropriate language that must be shared.
- In addition, for all protocols involving personal identifiers, all consent forms/scripts must include the approved language about Certificates of Confidentiality (CoCs).
- Please note that if your protocol involves the use of a drug, biologic, diagnostic, device, or vaccine used to treat, diagnose (e.g. testing), cure, prevent, or mitigate COVID–19 or the transmission of SARS-CoV–2, your consent form must include the PREP Act language.
We want to remind investigators that if you wish to pursue a new research question or conduct a new sub-study, in most cases this would require submission of a new protocol. A research protocol should only be amended, if the planned research is covered under the current specific aims in the IRB-approved protocol. If you have questions about whether you should submit a new study or amendment a previously approved study, please contact the IRBO at IRB@od.nih.gov.
When designing a new study, please utilize the protocol templates on the IRBO website. We now have templates to cover interventional drug and device studies, natural history/observational studies, secondary research studies (identifiable specimens or data), repositories (for new collection or storage of identifiable specimens or data), and exempt human subject research studies. The process for IRB review and approval is always more efficient, when the appropriate NIH protocol template has been utilized and all of the required content is included.
Continuing Reviews/Progress Reports for Studies Reviewed on or after January 21, 2019
If your initial protocol was reviewed and approved by the full board on or after Jan. 21, 2019 and determined to be minimal risk, you will need to submit a Continuing Review annually. The Continuing Review will be able to be reviewed through an expedited pathway.
If your initial protocol was reviewed and approved by an expedited reviewer on or after Jan. 21, 2019, you will need to submit a Progress Report annually. The Progress Report will collect certain data that is required at NIH to meet other reporting requirements.
If your study was reviewed and determined to be exempt and involves the collection of inclusion enrollment data, as long as you are enrolling new subjects, you will need to submit a Progress Report annually in iRIS to provide this data.
You should receive a reminder to submit Continuing Review and Progress Reports. If you are confused about when your review/report is due, what to submit or think you have received inaccurate information, please contact the IRBO at IRB@od.nih.gov.
Compliance & Training Update - 2020 Q2
The OHSRP Education Series for 2020 continues, albeit virtually for now, and the archived presentations can be found here on the OHSRP webpage. Once you click on the title of a specific session, a link to the videocast is also provided. The IRB Office Reliance and Single IRB team will be presenting a two-part education session in July and August. Part I will cover fundamental concepts and requirements relating to multi-site research and review by a single IRB. Part II will outline the responsibilities, and related processes, when an NIH study team plans to lead a multi-site research study and requests that the NIH IRB serve as the single IRB for all Participating Sites. It will also discuss requirements when NIH Investigators wish to rely on an external IRB.
The NIH Intramural Research Program is approaching the one-year anniversary mark for the initial implementation of Policy 801, Reporting Research Events and Policy 802, Non-Compliance in Human Subjects Research that occurred 7/1/2019. As was the case in 2019 after policy implementation, we continue to see fewer reportable events being submitted in iRIS in an expedited manner predominantly because protocol deviations that are minor in nature may now be reported as part of a high-level summary at the time of continuing review. Information regarding these polices as well as helpful guidance documents can be found on this IRBO webpage under the section labeled “800 Series.”
Likewise, we are at the one year anniversary of the implementation of Policy 201, Education Program, that defines training requirements for investigators on protocols overseen by the NIH Intramural IRB. As investigators submit new actions in iRIS, the IRB will be checking to confirm that investigators listed on the protocol have completed the appropriate human subjects research (HSR) training as described in the current policy. We urge all investigators to check and confirm that they are up to date on the required training and that this information is reflected in iRIS, so that review of the submission is not delayed pending documentation of training completion in iRIS as required for all protocol investigators. To check to see if training records are correctly updated in iRIS, investigators can go to this page on the IRBO webpage, and scroll down to the section labeled “Personal Training Records.” If the investigator has not completed the required training as listed in Policy 201, investigators can go to this link, which provides information about how to register for a new NIH CITI account and take the required training. Alternatively, if they have completed the correct training but it is not reflected in iRIS, this same link also includes instructions as to how to check HSR training completion records via the NIH CITI Portal. Only CITI training records that exist via this portal are automatically downloaded into iRIS. If an NIH investigator completed the appropriate training via another portal at NIH or at a non-NIH site, and the training is current, those records can be transferred into the NIH CITI database once the investigator has registered via that portal. Instructions for all steps include screenshots. Please note that NIH investigators were required to complete a CITI basic HSR training course after 1/21/2019 without the option of testing out because these modules contained important changes included in the Revised Common Rule. Policy 201 also outlines requirements for GCP training for those investigators conducting non-exempt (requiring IRB review) HSR. Note that if investigators completed or tested out of CITI GCP or completed NIAID GCP within the prior 3 years, they are still considered current. When this GCP training expires or, if investigators have never completed this training, they must complete or test out of CITI GCP (US FDA Focus).
Policy Update - 2020 Q2
The revision of the human research protection program (HRPP) policies is ongoing. To date 22 HRPP policies have been approved, of which three (3) have been released and are implemented. The implemented policies are located on the Policy page on the newly updated OHSRP website. All other HRPP Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) continue to apply until they are superseded by new policies. The active SOPs are also accessible on the Policy page. We will be implementing some of the approved policies in the very near future. Keep an eye out for announcements on these policy releases. To aid investigators and research teams in in understanding what has changed, these implemented policies will be accompanied by policy change documents. Investigators will be responsible for reviewing and complying with the newly implemented policies. The SOPs that have been superseded will continue to be available for historical purposes only, on the Policy Archive which is also located on the Policy page.
In April 2020, the NIH Annual Report was submitted to the accrediting body, the Association for Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP). The report was accepted by AAHRPP with no changes. This year it took the NIH “Village” to prepare the report. Thank you to the IC AAHRPP Liaisons and to ORSC for helping us with this year’s report. This year, ORSC established a new QAQI database to help us collect information about IC QAQI activities. So, we want to give a special thank you to ORSC and the IC QAQI teams for piloting this new system. We got a little bit of a surprise in February, when AAHRPP asked us to pilot their new online submission system. On the upside, AAHRPP gave us till mid-April to submit the report, since we were willing to pilot their new system. However, they asked us for all the data we normally collect in preparation for re-accreditation, which is quite a bit more than what is normally requested in the annual report. With the help of our stellar IT team, we got the job done. It was a good dry run for our actual accreditation renewal which will be submitted in March 2021. That means we will have a site visit in early 2022! Lastly, in May, we submitted a status report to AAHRPP to update the accrediting body on the status of the consolidation of the IC IRBs into the NIH Intramural IRB, and to provide an update regarding the streamlining of IRB operations. We were able to inform AAHRPP that we fully consolidated the IC IRBs into the NIH Intramural IRB in December 2019. We provided metrics which highlighted the increase in submission volume due to IRB consolidation, and the impact of COVID-19 on IRB operations. We also highlighted the changes to iRIS and the streamlining of forms. This report will be reviewed at the next AAHRPP Council.
OHSRP Newsletter 2020 Q2
Note from the Director
We are approaching the 6-month mark for the consolidation of all the legacy IRBs into the new NIH Intramural IRB (NIH IRB). I know that this has not been the easiest transition for the NIH community, and I thank you for your support and patience as we continue to build our new organization. Our goal is to serve the intramural research community by providing optimal protections for our research subjects and facilitating the ethical conduct of the life-saving research conducted here at NIH....
IRB Operations Update
IRBO at home, Considerations When Writing a Protocol During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Amending Studies, New Protocols, & Continuing Reviews/Progress Reports for Studies REviewed on or after January 21, 2019
What's New in iRIS?
The iRIS team continues to streamline and make more efficient the iRIS workflow. We thank all of the research community for their feedback in the development and testing of these improvements. Click below to read about some of the improvements made for you in the first half of this year.
Compliance & Training Update
The OHSRP Education Series for 2020 continues, albeit virtually for now, and the archived presentations can be found here on the OHSRP webpage. Once you click on the title of a specific session, a link to the videocast is also provided. The IRB Office Reliance and Single IRB team will be presenting a two-part education session in July and August. Part I will cover fundamental concepts...
The revision of the human research protection program (HRPP) policies is ongoing. To date 22 HRPP policies have been approved, of which three (3) have been released and are implemented. The implemented policies are located on the Policy page on the newly updated OHSRP website. All other HRPP Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) continue to...
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