In the following report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Independent Review and Assessment of the Activities of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) sought to provide an assessment of the state of existing gene transfer science and the current regulatory and policy context under which research is investigated. The charge to this committee, reproduced in the report, had two main aspects, the first of which was to assess whether the current oversight of individual gene transfer protocols by the RAC continues to be necessary. This task required understanding the circumstances that led to the creation of the RAC and assessing the current validity of these, and other, concerns. It was thus important to root our report in both scientific and historical contexts. The second major aspect of the committee's charge was to offer recommendations concerning the criteria the NIH should employ to determine whether individual protocols should receive public review. The issue was not simply should individual protocol review continue, but, if so, what standards the RAC and the NIH should use in exercising its oversight function. An examination of criteria could assist not only the RAC, but also research institutions and the general public with respect to utilizing and improving existing oversight processes.

The committee strove, above all, to maintain the public's confidence in the integrity of gene transfer research, consistent with the value of scientific advancement. Thus, the committee considered it vital to ensure that the recommended processes adequately safeguard the ethical integrity of the conduct of human subject research, including human subjects' and patients' rights and safety. At the same time, the committee aimed to achieve a regulatory and oversight environment that would advance the important mission of science—including removing as much regulatory duplication and delay as possible.

Even when a new discovery or novel technology offers the potential for valuable treatment, it can also bring with it troublesome scientific and technical challenges, as well as social and ethical concerns. The committee found that while gene transfer research continues to raise important scientific, social, and ethical questions, and while gene transfer research is constantly evolving, not all of gene transfer research is still considered an entirely new scientific enterprise or novel technology and therefore not all protocols warrant special/public oversight by the RAC. It is also important to stress that a number of applications of emerging technologies with the potential to make significant contributions to clinical medicine may also raise questions of significant and/or uncertain risk. These technologies could benefit from the model of oversight established by the RAC. This led the committee to the conclusion that the time had arrived for the NIH director to consider developing a rigorous review process that—instead of being limited to a single body of gene transfer research—was fair and consistent across scientific realms.

After careful study of the social and historical context of recombinant DNA research, the committee concluded that the RAC had served all parties admirably, ranging from human subjects and their families, to the research community and broader society. The RAC's commitment to providing a public forum in which the scientific, technical, and ethical considerations of gene transfer research were discussed instilled public confidence in a controversial new research field that at the time was not well understood. After 40 years of experience, the time for modernization has arrived. The committee concluded that the NIH should consider developing a process—using the RAC as a model—to rigorously review human subject research that is so novel, and carries significant unknown risks, that the normal regulatory apparatus lacks the capacity to conduct an adequate review. Until such a process is developed and agreed upon, the RAC should continue to review individual gene transfer protocols but should use new, more focused criteria in order to direct its resources to exceptional cases that warrant special oversight.

We are most grateful to the NIH for entrusting us with the opportunity to conduct this timely review. Gene transfer research remains highly important to the public and scientific community, and the RAC's oversight standards and processes can serve as a model for other areas of evolving science.

I am deeply appreciative of the expert work of our dedicated committee members and their extraordinary commitment and contributions to the task at hand. Our committee comprised some of the most eminent scientists and ethicists in the United States. Our study director Rebecca Lenzi—together with Monica Gonzalez and Shelli Goldzband—offered superb leadership and guidance. Andy Pope and Bruce Altevogt also offered exceptional guidance. Over a course of about 5 months, we convened 3 in-person committee meetings, 2 public meetings, including scientific presentations, and an abundance of teleconferences and e-mail exchanges. We trust that this report will assist not only the NIH in its vital efforts, but also the broader research and patient community. It is the committee's sincere hope that policy makers, scientists, research participants and their families, and others concerned about or hopeful of the promise of gene therapy, will find the report valuable.

The committee gave generously of its time, demonstrating tireless devotion to this task. I also wish to express the committee and staff's appreciation to the NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities for its openness and responsiveness to the committee's many requests for information during the course of this study.

Lawrence O. Gostin, Chair

Committee on the Independent Review and Assessment of the Activities of the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee