Purpose: To examine institutional review board (IRB) policies and practices with regard to conflicts of interest (COIs) among IRB members who review and approve research protocols and to assess IRB policies and procedures in light of federal policies and guidance.
Method: An anonymous survey of IRB chairs serving the most research-intensive medical institutions in the United States was conducted in fall 2005. The survey collected information about the chairs, the IRBs, and the processes IRBs had in place to manage member relationships and COIs.
Results: Two hundred eleven out of 296 eligible chairs responded (71.7%). One third of IRBs in the nation’s medical schools and major academic medical centers did not require voting members to disclose relationships with industry. In practice, IRB member industry relationships were disclosed to the entire IRB (75.9%), the IRB chair (62.1%), and/or a group or entity separate from the IRB but within the institution it serves (52.5%). One in five chairs of IRBs did not feel confident that their IRB’s policies and procedures ensured appropriate disclosure of industry relationships in every case. Finally, one in four IRBs did not have written policies defining appropriate actions when IRB member COIs were identified.
Conclusions: The relatively high proportion of IRBs without a requirement that voting members disclose industry relationships is inconsistent with current guidance, and likely results in lapses in awareness of when members with conflicts vote on protocols. There was no clear consensus on where oversight responsibility for member–industry relationships should lie.