February 12, 2009
Georgia State University Law Professor Leslie E. Wolf has published a study on the role of institutional review boards (IRBs) in helping to prevent conflicts of interest in clinical research. There is growing concern about such conflicts, including research sponsors paying finders' fees to researchers and clinicians to recruit participants, which may compromise the integrity of the research and potentially harm research subjects.
In her article, "IRB Policies Regarding Finder's Fees and Role Conflicts in Recruiting Reserach Participants," published in the January/February 2009 issue of IRB: Ethics & Human Research, Wolf reviews IRB policies and finds room for improvement.
In a survey of policies posted on 117 IRB Web sites, fewer than half of the IRBs provided information about potential conflicts from finder's fees. IRBs may consider this information unnecessary because of federal and state antikickback statutes that prohibit payments to induce patient referrals or for other health care business, according to Wolf. However, she writes, clinical investigators may not realize that these laws might also apply to clinical research.
"The focus on legal restrictions ignores the underlying ethical concern with recruitment payments that many commentators have identified," Wolf writes, "that such payments could lead to participants being enrolled inappropriately in studies and, as a result, being exposed to unnecessary risk."
IRB: Ethics & Human Research is published by The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan research institution dedicated to biothics and the public interest.