FDA abandons the Declaration of Helsinki: The effect on the ethics of clinical trial conduct in South Africa and other developing countries

  • LJ Burgess
  • D Pretorius


Four years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ceased compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki (DoH) (2000 revision and
all subsequent revisions) for conduct of clinical trials outside its borders. It instead ruled that compliance with the Good Clinical Practices (GCP) of the International Conference of Harmonization (ICH) is sufficient. However, the ICH-GCP guidelines do not address certain ethical requirements stipulated in the DoH, such as the use of placebos v. standard therapy, post-trial access to treatment and other benefits for participants; public disclosure of trial design; publication of trial results; and disclosure of conflicts of interest. The FDA’s adoption of less morally stringent guidelines could encourage pharmaceutical companies to take ethical short cuts. It could also have practical consequences for trial ethics in developing countries, especially where research ethics committees may not be promoting
high standards of protection for participants in clinical trials, due to lack of financial and human resources. Pharmaceutical companies may also pressurise research ethics committees to relax guidelines and legislation, in order to facilitate future clinical trials in developing and emerging countries that lack the resources to conduct their own clinical research on epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, which have devastating effects on their populations.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1999-7639