IRB: Ethics & Human Research

How Independent Are IRBs?

What does it mean to say that ethics committees that provide prospective review of research involving human beings should be “independent”? In the United States, IRBs—which are typically located within and review research protocols at the institution for which most of their members work—cannot really be considered independent. Yet separating the IRB from the research institution may in turn mean less independence from a trial’s sponsors, as this kind of IRB is commercially motivated and paid directly by the sponsor. One possible answer is to create independent IRBs that are not for profit, but how this model would attract financial and administrative support is unclear.

Key words/concepts: independence, conflict of interest, institutional review board, IRB, noninstitutional IRBs, commercial IRBs, academic IRBs, research ethics