FDA and NIH Release a Draft Clinical Trial Protocol Template for Public Comment

By: Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D.

Enhancing important efforts around clinical trials continues to be a key scientific priority. Another way we can encourage clinical trials is to look for ways to help clinical investigators make clinical trials more efficient, potentially saving development time and money. Today we’re announcing a draft clinical trial protocol template developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) that should help with that.

Peter MarksThe clinical trial protocol is a critical component of any medical product development program. It’s defined in the International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) E6 Good Clinical Practice: Consolidated Guidance, as describing “the objective(s), design, methodology, statistical considerations, and organization of a trial…[and] usually also gives the background and rationale for the trial”. Similarly, for medical devices, some direction has been provided in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Clinical Investigation of Medical Devices for Human Subjects — Good Clinical Practice (ISO 14155:2011). Although guidance provides information on the important content that should be included in a protocol to help ensure human subject protection and data quality, it does not describe a standardized format for presenting this information. Time spent identifying the specific elements that should be included in a protocol and how best to organize them can delay the start of a clinical trial, and lead to delays in getting important new treatments to patients. What’s more, because up to 85% of investigators have only participated in one clinical trial in their careers, many investigators lack significant experience in protocol development. It’s likely that investigators could benefit from additional help in this area.

NIH, which supports and conducts biomedical research, and FDA, which evaluates the safety and effectiveness of medical products and depends on high quality research to inform its decisions, realized this represents an opportunity to help improve the design of clinical trials. Now, the NIH-FDA Joint Leadership Council (JLC) has launched a project to develop a template that could be used by investigators developing a clinical trial protocol.

Representatives from the NIH institutes and FDA’s medical product centers collaborated to develop a template containing instructional and sample text for investigators writing phase 2 or phase 3 clinical trial protocols that require investigational new drug (IND) or investigational device exemption (IDE) applications. Our agencies hope that the availability of the template and instructional information enables investigators to prepare protocols that are consistent and well organized, contain all the information necessary for the clinical trials to be properly reviewed, and follow the ICH E6 Good Clinical Practice guidance. Better organized, high-quality protocols will also expedite the review process at both agencies.

We are aware of other efforts in this area, including one undertaken by TransCelerate Biopharma Inc. (TransCelerate), which has issued a common protocol template intended to be the basis for a forthcoming electronic protocol. Although our initial target audiences differ, we plan to collaborate with groups like TransCelerate to help ensure consistency for the medical product development community.

We see the template as a way to facilitate creativity and innovation, not inhibit it. In the words of our NIH colleague Dr. Pamela McInnes, “Our goal is to provide an organized way for creative investigators to describe their plans so that others can understand them.” Just as ICH E6 allows considerable flexibility in the actual operations of trials using quality by design principles, the template includes the appropriate elements to be considered, but does not dictate exactly how the trial should be done—that is the work of the investigators.

NIH and FDA are seeking public comment on the draft template, which is available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-16-043.html. Comments are accepted through April 17, 2016. We welcome feedback from investigators, investigator-sponsors, institutional review board members, and other stakeholders who are involved in protocol development and review. We are particularly interested in hearing your views on the utility of the template and whether the instructional and sample text is useful and clear.

Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

More information can be found at:

NIH and FDA Request for Public Comment on Draft Clinical Trial Protocol Template for Phase 2 and 3 IND/IDE Studies

Clinical Research Policy

Clinical Trial Protocol Template

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