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Single IRB Update

HRP recently had a very helpful email dialogue with OHRP regarding the cooperative review (single IRB) provisions in the revised Common Rule. OHRP has graciously provided permission for us to disseminate the information they provided and have asked that we remind everyone to please check in with the funding agency when uncertain whether the mandate applies because the funding agency may have a definition of support that is more strict or different than OHRP’s.

Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2023 1:15 PM
To: OS OPHS OHRP (HHS/OPHS) <>; Karen Christianson <>
Subject: RE: Cooperative Research Question


Thank you so much for your patience.  Please see your questions with my answers in purple below. 

You asked: I’m writing with a few questions that come up from time to time related to the cooperative research provisions and single IRB.

Jaime Hernandez: A preliminary question that I’d like to answer first relates to when a study has to comply with the single IRB requirement.  The single IRB requirement applies to institutions engaged in cooperative research (see 45 CFR 46.114(b)).  Cooperative research is defined as non-exempt, human subjects research conducted or supported by HHS in which two or more institutions are involved or cooperating in (see 46.114(a)).  If the research activities of only one researcher are non-exempt, human subjects research conducted or supported by HHS, then the study is not cooperative research, and it doesn’t have to comply with the single IRB requirement (but it can if the institutions want to do so).  If the research activities of two or more of researchers are non-exempt, human subjects research conducted or supported by HHS, then only those researchers are involved in cooperative research and must comply with the single IRB requirement.  The other researchers who are NOT engaged in non-exempt, human subjects research conducted or supported by HHS don’t have to rely on the single IRB together with the two or more researchers who are engaged (although they all can use the single IRB if they want to).

Therefore, to answer the scenarios below, the main issue is whether the different participants in a study are engaged in non-exempt, human subjects research conducted or supported by HHS.  For all the scenarios, I assume the research studies are all non-exempt, human subjects research.  So the remaining issue is whether they are supported by HHS under the different grant mechanisms you describe in each scenario.

  1. When a cooperative research project is not itself conducted or supported by HHS (or other Common Rule Department or Agency) funds, but one or more members of the research teams are supported, for example, by a career development, training, or fellowship award, would the cooperative research project be subject to the single IRB requirement?

Jaime Hernandez: We can’t speak for other Common Rule agencies since they may have a different approach to “support.”  But, for HHS funded research, OHRP generally looks at the career development, training, or fellowship award to see if the specific human subjects study in question was described in the award.  For example, if an award doesn’t describe any specific research study, and the awardee joins the research team of a senior PI, that PI’s research does not become supported by HHS even if the salary of the new team member is covered by a training or fellowship grant.  On the other hand, if the study was initiated by the awardee and proposed to NIH (either in the original grant or subsequent submission), and NIH approves the conduct of the specific study under the award, then OHRP would consider it to be supported by HHS.

These are only two examples, of course, and often it is not so simple.  I would suggest looking at the awards to see if it describes the specific research study.  Also, I would look at the terms and condition of the award or reach out to the award administrator at the funding agency to see if the funding agency would consider the study supported by them.    

  • When a Center or Institute is supported by HHS (or other Common Rule Department or Agency) funds, and the Center/Institute in turn funds cooperative research projects, would those research projects be subject to the single IRB requirement?

Jaime Hernandez: In this scenario too, OHRP looks at whether a specific research project was identified in the grant that HHS supported.  If so, then the center or institute would be considered engaged.

  • When an organization is considered engaged in research by virtue of being the awardee institution but all activities involving human subjects are carried out by another organization, and the research is not exempt, would the cooperative research provisions apply and would IRB reliance need to be documented in accordance with .103(e)?

Jaime Hernandez: Consistently with 1 and 2, and as I said in my prior email, OHRP usually looks at whether the grant includes plans for specific human subjects research or just un-specified, future research.  Note that for grants for the conduct of non-exempt human subjects research in which the primary awardee only “passes the money,” OHRP asks that institutions send the grant to us for a case-by-case determination (see,  This is different than for a center or institute grant in scenario 2, for example.  But in any of the 3 scenarios, feel free to send us the grant if you need a more specific answer. It may take us a while to review it, but we are here to help.

I hope this answers your question,    

Jaime O. Hernandez, J.D., M.Be.
Pronouns: he/him/his

Office for Human Research Protection (OHRP)

Is it time to rethink the IRB roster?

We’re all eagerly watching the evolving ethical and regulatory landscape in research, with updated guidance from several agencies and organizations, the unknown implications of AI and the increasing dependency on technology to conduct our trials.

For those who have been in the research industry for a while, this is a lot of change in a short amount of time, and it often feels like we’re being reactive rather than proactive.

So, let’s be proactive about something that hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years – the composition of the IRB Roster.

IRB Committee Composition Goals

To take a step back, let’s talk through the purpose of the IRB composition. The goal is to minimize the risk for human subjects in research, right? We all know an IRB must have at least 5 members with varying backgrounds, expertise and diversity, including at least one scientific, one non-scientific and one unaffiliated member.

Varying Background and Expertise – Future Needs

The question is, with this quickly evolving landscape, are we meeting the “varying backgrounds and expertise” mandate? Our focus is generally on having the appropriate scientific or scholarly expertise to review the research. That will always be essential in properly protecting human subjects.

However, with the growth of AI and technology, how many IT experts are on our boards? With the recruitment strategies increasingly using social media and such, how about a marketing expert on our board? With protocol designs and logistical considerations becoming more and more complicated, how many boards include an expert in project management?

Recommendation: Be Proactive

Being proactive means staying in front of the problem. We don’t want to look back on our board roster composition and realize we may have missed potential risks in a research study because we focused so heavily on the scientific aspects and ignored the social and logistical aspects of a research study.


Looking for IRB consulting around your roster, services or operations? Contact your friends at The HRP Consulting Group.

IND Safety Reports and IRBs

HRP recently engaged in extensive correspondence with the FDA regarding the following statements that appeared in one of the later iteration’s of the FDA’s guidance document “Conduct of Clinical Trials of Medical Products During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency”:

Where an IND safety report is required to be submitted to FDA under 21 CFR 312.32, the investigator must [emphasis added] also send that IND safety report to the IRB. The IRB may have additional reporting requirements regarding COVID-19 during the clinical trial.


In addition, investigators are required under 21 CFR 312.66 to report all “unanticipated problems involving risk to human subjects or others” to the IRB. FDA considers a serious and unexpected adverse event that meets the criteria for sponsor reporting to FDA and all investigators in an IND safety report under 21 CFR 312.32, and would generally consider a serious adverse event that meets the criteria for safety reporting for an IND-exempt bioavailability/bioequivalence study under 21 CFR 320.31(d)(3), to be an “unanticipated problem[ ] involving risk to human subjects or others” that therefore must [emphasis added] be reported to the IRB by the investigator.

We discussed the disconnect between the above statements and the information provided in FDA’s still-active 2009 guidance document: “Adverse Event Reporting to IRBs – Improving Human Subject Protection” including the following:

In general, an AE observed during the conduct of a study should be considered an unanticipated problem involving risk to human subjects, and reported to the IRB, only if it were unexpected, serious, and would have implications for the conduct of the study (e.g., requiring a significant, and usually safety-related, change in the protocol such as revising inclusion/exclusion criteria or including a new monitoring requirement, informed consent, or investigator’s brochure).An individual AE occurrence ordinarily does not meet these criteria because, as an isolated event, its implications for the study cannot be understood [emphasis added].

While recognizing that the AE reporting to IRBs guidance remains active, FDA pointed to changes that were made to the IND Safety Reporting Regulations in 2010 and the subsequent 2012 guidance “Guidance for Industry and Investigators – Safety Reporting Requirements for INDs and BA/BE Studies” which states:

Although the rule on IND safety reporting does not directly address safety reporting by investigators to IRBs, questions have arisen about its impact on adverse event reports to IRBs, particularly with respect to the specific adverse events considered to be “unanticipated problems” that must be reported to the IRB. In general, a report that meets the criteria for reporting in an IND safety report should also be considered an “unanticipated problem” and reported to the IRB by the investigator.

We discussed the implications for IRBs, including the volume of IND Safety Reports, safety reports that do not involve or impact “local” subjects or the conduct of the research, and whether IRBs are expected to report these IND Safety Reports as unanticipated problems to “appropriate institutional officials, and the Food and Drug Administration” per 21 CFR 56.108(b).

FDA reiterated their position that IND Safety Reports submitted to the FDA should also be submitted to IRBs as unanticipated problems noting that the IRB “may decide to take action to safeguard participants that was not taken by the sponsor (e.g., stop administering an investigational drug, revise informed consent form).”  Because of the changes made to the IND regulations regarding what must be submitted to the FDA in an IND Safety Report, FDA does not believe that many of these reports will be uninformative.

Regarding reporting to the FDA, the FDA offered that an IRB could include in its written procedures that sponsor submission of the IND Safety Report to the FDA fulfills the prompt reporting requirement as long as the IRB confirms that the sponsor has submitted the report.  Regarding reporting to institutional officials, the FDA offered that the IRB could also address in its procedures when and to whom IND Safety Reports will be reported.

To that end, HRP has modified our SOPs, forms, and checklists accordingly and incorporated procedures for Chair or designee review and acknowledgment of these reports, when the reports do not involve or impact local subjects, or significantly impact the conduct of the research, and additional actions are not needed to ensure the protection of subjects enrolled at sites overseen by an IRB.


Exception Process for Revised Common Rule Single IRB Requirement

HRP recently sought clarification from NIH and OHRP regarding the process for organizations to request exceptions from the revised Common Rule requirement for single IRB for cooperative research.

While NIH was previously able to grant exceptions from its own single IRB policy, it is unable to grant exceptions to the revised Common Rule requirement.  HHS interprets the regulatory text (see excerpt below) to mean that exceptions not based in law may only be granted at the Department or Agency Head level.

45 CFR 46.114(b)(2) The following research is not subject to this provision:

(i) Cooperative research for which more than single IRB review is required by law (including tribal law passed by the official governing body of an American Indian or Alaska Native tribe); or

Research for which any Federal department or agency supporting or conducting the research determines and documents that the use of a single IRB is not appropriate for the particular context.

Requests for exceptions for HHS agencies and offices are managed by OHRP while the decisions are made at the Department Head level (i.e., the Office of the Secretary).  A listing of HHS agencies and offices is available here:  At this time, requests for HHS exceptions may be emailed to OHRP at  OHRP anticipates that few exceptions will be granted.  It is unclear whether SACHRP’s 2018 recommendations on the topic will be taken into consideration.

Decisions regarding single IRB exceptions for other Common Rule Departments or Agencies (see list below) must also be made at the department or agency head level.  Organizations seeking such exceptions should reach out to the department or agency supporting the research for guidance on the process.

    • Department of Homeland Security
    • Department of Agriculture
    • Department of Energy
    • NASA
    • Department of Commerce
    • Social Security Administration
    • Agency for International Development
    • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • Department of Labor
    • Department of Defense
    • Department of Education
    • Department of Veterans Affairs
    • Environmental Protection Agency
    • National Science Foundation
    • Department of Transportation
    • Office of the Director of National Intelligence
    • Central Intelligence Agency
    • Consumer Product Safety Commission