Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, part of Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare system recently sponsored a conference focusing on the important topic of ensuring responsible conduct of research during the pandemic. This conference was held virtually in the afternoons of April 12 – April 16, 2021, funded by grant ORI IR200065 from the Office of Research Integrity, Department of Health and Human Services. Key takeaways from this important conference include 1) the importance of communication and transparency during the pandemic; 2) the importance of research ethics and standards; 3) focus on relevant and appropriate research—that is research that will have a major impact; and 4) pandemic planning and associated preparation, adopting public health models and adapting to translational research programs.
More than 200 people registered for the conference, with attendees from across the US, Europe and South America. There were three keynote speakers: Jeremy N. Block, Ph.D., Managing Partner Venture Catalyst, and IRB member; Mark Barnes, J.D., Partner, Ropes and Gray LLP; and Michael Lauer, M.D., Deputy Director, Extramural Research, NIH; eight panel discussions on topics ranging from Publishing during a Pandemic to Equity and Inclusion in Clinical Research to Data Management, Security and Integrity. There were also three workshops on “Clinical conflict between need to treat vs. need to collect strong, reliable data,” “Challenges of expedited study start up and inexperienced people doing research,” and “Confirming quality of research results and dissemination”. The workshops were tasked with identifying a set of best practices for maintaining responsible conduct of research in their specific topic areas.
The speakers, panelists and moderators and the participants in the conference agreed that the scientific enterprise in the US did an amazing job during the pandemic and that we have much to be proud of. However, we also recognize that there were things that could have been done better. Key take-away points are listed below.
1. Communication and transparency are critical during a pandemic. They are essential between scientists, between scientists and administrators, and scientists and the public. Communication and transparency are also critical between local, state and federal leaders and the scientific community, and between local, state and federal leaders and the public about scientific issues. We need to be clear about what we know and what is uncertain, and revise our statements and recommendations as new knowledge becomes available.
2. Our standards of research ethics must not be compromised during a pandemic. As one of the panel members stated, in a crisis you change your process, not your rules.
3. It is critical to not only do research ethically and responsibly, but to do the right research – designing studies that are likely to have a major impact and then providing the resources to conduct them.
4. It is important to plan for a pandemic, and prepare in advance. There are good public health models for this that can be adapted for translational and clinical research.
The goal of the conference was to identify those pain points that are critical, to identify ways to enhance responsible research during a pandemic, and to plan now for the next one. To that end, we will be writing a set of publications to disseminate all that we learned during those five days.
About Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research
The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is the home of research at Northwell Health. In conjunction with their partners in government, academia, industry and philanthropy, the organization strives to advance knowledge and make innovative therapies a reality. Their researchers work to transform the treatment of conditions like lupus, arthritis, sepsis, cancer, psychiatric illness and Alzheimer’s disease. As the global headquarters of bioelectronic medicine, Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is exploring ways to raise the standard of medical innovation and are using electronic medical devices to signal the body to heal itself.