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How Centralized IBC Review Can Benefit Gene Therapy Research

Gene therapy research is booming in the clinical setting. In this blog, we summarize the growth, risks, and regulatory requirements for gene therapy research. We also discuss how a centralized biosafety review process can benefit this type of research.

Defining the Boom in Gene Therapy Research

The gene therapy field is experiencing explosive growth in today’s competitive research environment. Gene therapy involves the transfer of engineered genetic materials to human research subjects.

These studies were previously considered to be highly experimental and limited to early phase trials at a handful of highly specialized academic medical centers. However, well-established safety profiles, promising research results, and the FDA issuing the first gene therapy approvals in recent years have led to dramatic growth.

Searching clinicaltrials.gov for gene therapy studies results in 5,720 hits, with 1,304 studies currently recruiting or enrolling research subjects. As of June 2023, 416 Phase III studies are listed, representing a growing pipeline of gene therapy products preparing to undergo consideration for FDA approval.

Risks and Regulatory Requirements

Most clinical researchers are familiar with the regulatory requirements pertaining to the FDA phases of review as well as with IRB review. However, gene therapy studies require additional review to assess the risks associated with the engineered genetic material, especially as the technology frequently utilizes genetically engineered viruses to deliver genetic information into target cells.

Viral infection involves the transfer of the virus’ genetic material to host cells, making viruses ideal tools for gene transfer—once the genes responsible for viral replication and disease are removed. While genetically modified viruses have a greater safety profile than the naturally occurring unmodified variety, they remain infectious and capable of causing harm.

NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules (NIH Guidelines) provide the standard for oversight of research involving genetic engineering and gene therapy. The NIH Office of Science Policy (OSP) promulgates the NIH Guidelines and calls for local oversight at the research site by institutional biosafety committees (IBCs) reporting to the NIH OSP.

IBCs are charged with protecting study personnel, the community, and the environment from exposure to engineered genetic material. An IBC may also advise the IRB to aid in assessing risks to the study subjects.

IBCs are comprised of at least five members, including at least two unaffiliated community members. Together, they collectively possess the expertise to assess the risks associated with the proposed research which may include preclinical, clinical, or non-clinical research.

IBC membership is required to include additional expertise for research involving animal models, human subjects, high-containment infectious disease laboratories, industrial scale greater than 10 liters, and plants or plant pathogens.

IBC review involves assessing the risks associated with the genetically modified investigational product, as well as the adequacy of a facility’s safety practices and training intended for use of the investigational product at the site.

Find out how a major CRO leveraged central IBC review and activated sites to “ready to enroll” 78% faster. Read the Case Study

Efficiencies from a Centralized IBC Review

While NIH Guidelines call for IBCs to provide local oversight at the site level, the process can be externally administered by a central body to provide similar benefits as centralized IRB review (also known as single IRB or sIRB review).

Organizations providing centralized review can provide greater speed and efficiencies. Many offer a web-based submission portal, which allows sponsors and CROs to create a single submission for multiple sites.

Additionally, centralized IBC organizations can administer IBCs for sites lacking their own committees. They can also serve as a second committee specifically for clinical trials when the existing IBC lacks the expertise for such reviews (many local IBCs focus only on preclinical or non-clinical research).

The greatest benefit of centralized IBC review is faster turnaround times from submission to approval. Academic medical centers are typically limited to monthly IBC meetings and routinely take two to three months to issue an approval for a gene therapy study. Centralized IBC organizations have more frequent committee meetings: For example, Advarra’s IBC can provide turnaround times of 10 days or less for registered sites.

Similar to sIRB review benefits, as a result of these centralized IBC efficiencies, sponsors can experience faster study startups, achieve experimental endpoints earlier, and cut costs. Sites working with a centralized IBC are more competitive for being selected for studies and are more likely to meet recruitment goals.

Most importantly, a centralized review process lets patients experience accelerated access to the latest biomedical science has to offer.

Note: This article was originally published September 18, 2019, and has been updated to include new and clarifying information.

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