Updated on 17 November 2012
"Coincidentally, associate professor Shaun Holt had published an article in the New Zealand Herald, which suggested that 'our ethical committees had become so bureaucratic and inefficient that they were unethical'. Dr Holt's article was rebutted by professor Tim Dare, who claimed that New Zealand ethics committee process' was the best in the world. However, there was an admission by others that it needed a streamlined electronic process," Dr Hutchison added.
There was also a perception that the New Zealand clinical trials industry had become less attractive because of relationships between some pharmaceutical companies and the drug funding agency Pharmac. "The most talked about example was when Pfizer withdrew $50 million of funding from cancer research at Auckland University," he says.
He presented the terms of reference to the national government caucus, which accepted them after consultation with key figures in the industry and the government. "They were in turn implemented unanimously by all political parties, represented in the Health Select Committee. Public submissions were called for and, 32-out-of-the-58, were heard by the committee. We received advice from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and specialist advice from Mr David Clarke and Dr Neil Domigan from Cranleigh Health (Cranleigh Merchant Bank)," he explains.
This resulted in the report in June 2011. The government responded within three months and agreed to the main recommendations. The key recommendations to be acted on urgently (within 12 months of the report's presentation), included simplifying and streamlining ethical review processes; promoting collaboration between the government departments to coordinate the system; developing a national health research action plan to foster innovation and commercialization; and developing a framework for clinical trial research throughout district health boards, to be facilitated by a hub.
Things have improved since the recommendations were made. Dr Hutchison himself agreed to that. "I have no doubt that the environment for carrying out clinical trials has already changed for the better, but it is vital that we continue to aspire to be the best place in the world for the type of trials that suit our population," he revealed.