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Reporting to the IRB: Serious Adverse Events (SAEs) in Drug Studies

At Advarra, we often get questions about exactly what events should be reported to the institutional review board (IRB). We understand “reportable events” can be tricky: Some are addressed specifically in the regulations, some are covered in regulatory guidance documents, and some are left to an individual IRB’s policy definition. In this blog, we examine what the regulations do and do not say about IRB reporting requirements, and how Advarra has addressed some of the undefined “gray areas.”

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a guidance document on adverse event (AE) reporting to IRBs, which is intended to “assist the research community in interpreting requirements for submitting reports of unanticipated problems, including certain adverse events reports” to the IRB.

For research conducted under an investigational new drug (IND), the guidance states:

So what does this mean in practice?

Apart from a few serious, uncommon AEs, usually considered to be strongly related to drug exposure (e.g., Stevens Johnson syndrome, hepatic injury, anaphylaxis), single/isolated AE reports typically do not meet the criteria of a UAP.

FDA states in its guidance Safety Reporting Requirements for INDs and BA/BE Studies,  “FDA believes that the sponsor is better positioned than the individual investigator to assess the overall safety of the investigational drug because the sponsor has access to serious adverse event reports from multiple study sites and multiple studies and is able to aggregate and analyze these reports.

“Moreover, the sponsor is more familiar with the drug’s mechanism of action, class effects, and other information. For these reasons, investigators must immediately report any serious adverse event to the sponsor, whether or not the investigator considers the event to be drug related (21 CFR 312.64(b)).”

What Is a UAP/UP Involving Risk to Human Subjects or Others)?

A UAP or UP, which is only defined in FDA guidance, is:

This means an SAE that is expected, as identified in the study documentation, but is occurring at greater frequency or severity, as determined by the sponsor’s assessment, should be reported to the IRB as a UAP.

However, serious adverse events (SAEs) determined to be unrelated to the study, or are directly related to the subject population’s disease, should not be submitted to the IRB.

For SAEs where relatedness has not yet been determined, and further analysis is required, IRB submission should only happen once both the investigator and sponsor have determined the SAE was related to the test article. The IRB will likely request the sponsor’s assessment before proceeding with review.

Per the FDA, “It is important to note that some events that would not meet the criteria for reporting in an IND safety report would be considered unanticipated problems involving risk to human subjects (e.g., informed consent or privacy issues, certain adverse events that could not be caused by the investigational drug, such as events that occur prior to test article administration as a result of a washout period or due to a screening procedure).”

SAEs occurring at other sites and provided to each investigator (like IND safety reports or suspected unexpected serious adverse reactions [SUSARs]) should only be submitted to the IRB following the sponsor’s assessment that the event(s) in fact meet the UAP criteria. For multisite studies, the sponsor will typically report a UAP on behalf of all sites.

It is important to note UAPs will often have implications for study conduct, such as an update to the protocol (e.g., additional safety monitoring, updates to inclusion/exclusion criteria, etc.), changes to the informed consent form (ICF) and/or investigator’s brochure, changes to the enrollment status (e.g., enrollment/screening and/or dosing hold), etc.

The IRB must be notified of a UAP promptly, but no later than two weeks or 10 business days from the time of identification.

At Advarra, when the IRB receives SAEs or safety reports that do not meet the UAP criteria (as defined by the above FDA guidance), the submitting party will receive acknowledgement of receipt only. The item will not receive IRB review. When these items are submitted by a sponsor or contract research organization (CRO), Advarra’s default process is to generate an acknowledgement of receipt to all open sites, though sponsors/CROs may opt-out of this process.

For Advarra’s specific reporting requirements, consult our IRB Handbook, available in the Reference Materials section of the Advarra CIRBI Platform. Not sure if an event should be reported to the IRB? Contact your study coordinator for assistance, or email our Safety Team directly.

Note: This article was originally published on December 14, 2018, and has been updated to include new and clarifying information.

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