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Open Access Research article

The activity of French Research Ethics Committees and characteristics of biomedical research protocols involving humans: a retrospective cohort study

Evelyne Decullier1, Véronique Lhéritier2 and François Chapuis3*

Author Affiliations

1 UF de méthodologie en recherche clinique, Département d'Information Médicale des Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon, France

2 Hôpital Edouard Herriot, Lyon, France

3 French National Conference of Research Ethics Committees, Lyon, France

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BMC Medical Ethics 2005, 6:9  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-6-9

Published: 17 October 2005



Clinical trials throughout the world must be evaluated by research ethics committees. No one has yet attempted to clearly quantify at the national level the activity of ethics committees and describe the characteristics of the protocols submitted. The objectives of this study were to describe 1) the workload and the activity of Research Ethics Committees in France, and 2) the characteristics of protocols approved on a nation-wide basis.


Retrospective cohort of 976 protocols approved by a representative sample of 25/48 of French Research Ethics Committees in 1994. Protocols characteristics (design, study size, investigator), number of revisions requested by the ethics committee before approval, time to approval and number of amendments after approval were collected for each protocol by trained research assistant using the committee's files and archives.


Thirty-one percent of protocols were approved with no modifications requested in 16 days (95% CI: 14–17). The number of revisions requested by the committee, and amendments submitted by the investigator was on average respectively 39 (95% CI: 25–53) and 37 (95% CI: 27–46), per committee and per year. When revisions were requested, the main reasons were related to information to the patient (28%) and consent modalities (18%). Drugs were the object of research in 68% of the protocols examined. The majority of the research was national (80%) with a predominance of single-centre studies. Workload per protocol has been estimated at twelve and half hours on average for administrative support and at eleven and half hours for expertise.


The estimated workload justifies specific and independent administrative and financial support for Research Ethics Committees.