We describe issues and outcomes in the development of a specialized, central institutional review board (IRB) for multicenter oncology protocols. Numerous authoritative bodies have called for a change to the ethics review system to better manage multicenter trials in terms of quality, timeliness, and efficiency. In 2003, the American Society of Clinical Oncology proposed a network of regional IRBs for cancer. Previous experience with central IRBs has been met with mixed success.
We took a bottom-up approach to organizing a province-wide IRB, which was led by an IRB chair and a clinical investigator at one cancer center. Participation on the part of institutions was voluntary.
Uptake in the first 2 years was modest and increased from 11 clinical trials in year 1 to 21 in year 2. In the third year, there was an apparent upsurge in the number of involved centers (14) and in the number of submitted clinical protocols (54).
Sponsors and investigators are loath to risk development of a novel IRB until there is a clear demonstration of quality, efficiency, and timeliness of decision. Development of a regional, specialized IRB requires considerable efforts to develop and maintain the trust of sponsors, investigators, and institutions despite prior demands for more efficient and timely ethics review. Voluntary institutional participation, clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, and effective execution promote development of this trust.