A recent report published by the UK Medical Research Council focusses on the frameworks for regulation of biomedical research in the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). The findings highlight many aspects in which ethical oversight for research is similar between PRC and the UK, but also demonstrate key differences of which researchers and funders should be aware.
The committee was set up to focus on specific areas where there was particular potential for collaboration between Chinese and UK researchers – including three fields chosen for special attention – stem cells; clinical trials relating to emerging infections; and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The report highlights that the system of ethical review (involving Institutional Review Boards) differs somewhat between the UK and PRC, with little national-level oversight of IRB function in PRC. In addition, the committee found that “Chinese guidelines are notably less specific than international guidelines in ensuring the independence of IRBs from the institutions they are scrutinising”, and frequently lacked members independent of the research centre.
Regulation of stem cell research and therapeutic applications is also an area where collaborating researchers should be aware of important differences in oversight.
The report sets out specific recommendations for UK and Chinese researchers who engage in research collaboration.