Costs of Medical IRBs Are Greater Than Previously
Expected, Bioethics Study Shows
By Gary Stephenson
Institutional review boards, the committees that
oversee protections for human research participants, often
come with a higher than expected price tag, according to
results of a study published in the April 28 edition of the
New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers, led by Jeremy Sugarman, professor of
bioethics and medicine at the
Hopkins Berman Bioethics Institute, examined data from
63 academic medical centers in the United States to assess
the costs for running their IRBs. They found that the
annual operating costs ranged from $171,014 to $4,705,333,
with a median cost of $741,920.
"Previous reports tended to understate the true costs
of IRBs," Sugarman said. "Our study demonstrates that
institutions and policy-makers need to recognize the
important role of the IRBs in protecting research
participants so that they are not shortchanged."
To derive the full costs, the researchers calculated
costs of salaries of IRB members, time spent on various
IRB-related activities, the costs of office space,
equipment, supplies and travel, and the use of outside
services to facilitate and complement the work of the IRB.
Low-volume institutions (fewer than 350 new research
protocols reviewed by an IRB per year) had on average six
IRB staff members, and high-volume centers (700 or more new
protocols per year) had 14. The mean number of IRB panels
in low-volume institutions was 1.8 and in high-volume
Low-volume institutions had the lowest IRB costs, with
a mean of $402,369. Intermediate-volume centers had a mean
cost of $805,620, while high-volume institutions had the
highest mean cost of $1,150,417 per year.
High-volume medical centers, while spending more for
IRBs in total, did benefit from an economy of scale,
Sugarman said. At these institutions, each IRB review
averaged $431 vs. $644 at low-volume counterparts.
Intermediate-volume centers' cost per IRB review was
Other members of the team conducting the study
included members of the Consortium to Examine Clinical
Research Ethics, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable
Foundation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, as well as
researchers from Boston University and the University of
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