Drug safety issues do not respect national borders. Hence, addressing a safety question may necessitate globally coordinated efforts between regulatory authorities and market authorization holders (MAHs) to draw reliable conclusions. Regulatory authorities have shared responsibility with MAHs sponsoring postmarketing nonintervention studies in determining study goals and design. Their shared accountabilities include what will be investigated and how the data will be retrieved to ensure appropriate study quality required for regulatory decision making. The need for a harmonized framework and ethical standards for postmarketing observational studies is well recognized but has been lacking even among the United States, European Union, and Japan, which are so-called International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH) regions. A recent update of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences International Ethical Guidelines for Health-Related Research Involving Humans provides further clarification on provisions for informed consent and the role of research ethics committees. However, without incorporation into legislative structures, the future impact of these guidelines is uncertain. This lack of harmonization leads to a complex and uncertain framework for ethical review and for participant informed consent, resulting in numerous inefficiencies in the regulatory postmarketing observational studies. The regulatory frameworks for postmarketing observational studies conducted under the auspices of regulatory agencies in the 3 regions are reviewed, with a focus on ethical requirements and opportunities for efficiencies.
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