Rethinking risk assessment for emerging technology first-in-human trials

Med Health Care Philos. 2016 Mar;19(1):125-39. doi: 10.1007/s11019-015-9660-7.

Abstract

Recent progress in synthetic biology (SynBio) has enabled the development of novel therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of human disease. In the near future, first-in-human trials (FIH) will be indicated. FIH trials mark a key milestone in the translation of medical SynBio applications into clinical practice. Fostered by uncertainty of possible adverse events for trial participants, a variety of ethical concerns emerge with regards to SynBio FIH trials, including 'risk' minimization. These concerns are associated with any FIH trial, however, due to the novelty of the approach, they become more pronounced for medical applications of emerging technologies (emTech) like SynBio. To minimize potential harm for trial participants, scholars, guidelines, regulations and policy makers alike suggest using 'risk assessment' as evaluation tool for such trials. Conversely, in the context of emTech FIH trials, we believe it to be at least questionable to contextualize uncertainty of potential adverse events as 'risk' and apply traditional risk assessment methods. Hence, this issue needs to be discussed to enable alterations of the evaluation process before the translational phase of SynBio applications begins. In this paper, we will take the opportunity to start the debate and highlight how a misunderstanding of the concept of risk, and the possibilities and limitations of risk assessment, respectively, might impair decision-making by the relevant regulatory authorities and research ethics committees, and discuss possible solutions to tackle the issue.

Keywords: Emerging technology; First-in-human trials; Ignorance; Risk; Risk assessment; Synthetic biology; Synthetic therapeutic circuits; Translational medicine; Uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment / ethics*
  • Synthetic Biology*
  • Uncertainty