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Panel wants better controls on human experiments

Those at the sharp end need more protection

(Keystone)

A public panel has come out in favour of testing drugs on humans but wants better protection for people taking part in experiments.

Participants in a forum hosted by the Centre for Technology Assessment, TA-Swiss, said special care had to be taken with pregnant women, children and disabled people.

They found that human guinea pigs who volunteer for scientific research often do so without being fully aware of the risks involved.

After eight days of discussing the pros and cons of human research, the panel made up of around 30 representatives from all over the country presented their proposals to Swiss experts and scientists in Bern.

The panel, selected at random from across the country, said the testing of drugs on humans had to be both promoted and controlled at the same time.

“Vulnerable groups of people such as children, pregnant women and the disabled need more protection, but they also need more research to help produce results for them,” Alexia Stantchev, project manager of TA-Swiss, told swissinfo.

“The problem is that it is more difficult to conduct tests on them for ethical reasons, and that makes the whole question very delicate.”

Information

The panel, which was organised by TA-Swiss and the Federal Health Office, called for patients to be better informed. It proposed the appointment of an ombudsman to ensure people were not left in the dark.

Monica Bucci, a psychologist from canton Ticino and a member of the panel, insisted human research was very important for Swiss society.

“We are not only focusing on protection but also on the development of human research,” Bucci told swissinfo.

Participants also suggested introducing a special tax to finance research into rare illnesses, which are often ignored by the pharmaceutical industry on economic grounds.

Question of ethics

To improve conditions for research, the panel proposed cutting the number of ethics commissions - currently 30 - which decide whether a project should go ahead.

“The advantage of the high number of ethics commissions is that the people know the hospitals, the doctors and the machinery involved,” said Stantchev.

“The great disadvantage is that the administration can slow down the process and the research. At the end of the day it is more a question of slowing down the research.”

The report, which was published on Monday, comes amid moves in parliament to draw up a law, which would tighten regulations governing research on humans.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling

Key facts

Around 30 Swiss citizens took part in the panel discussing human research in Switzerland.
The panel calls for better protection of pregnant women, children and disabled people.
It also proposes the introduction of an ombudsman for patients affected by research.
The Swiss parliament is due to discuss a new law to tighten regulations governing research on humans.

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