The way some local research studies, including drug trials, involving human volunteers are approved will be streamlined to save time and cost.
SingHealth and the National Healthcare Group (NHG) - two key public health-care groups here - have centralised their ethics review process for such studies.
From July, when SingHealth's ethics review board approves a study, this will be accepted by NHG, and vice versa. This eliminates the need for studies involving both groups to get approval from each side as is the case now, said Professor Soo Khee Chee, Deputy Group CEO of SingHealth (Research & Education).
As part of the move, the two groups will also exchange expertise, which could lead to better protection for volunteers in the studies, said NHG's research ethics committee chairman Chin Jing Jih.
SingHealth members include Singapore General Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital, while NHG counts Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National Skin Centre in its ranks.
In Singapore, any research study involving human subjects has to be approved by an independent ethics committee before it can be carried out. This is to protect the rights, safety and well-being of the volunteers.
In the public health-care sector, SingHealth's hospitals and institutions use its Centralised Institutional Review Board, while NHG members use the group's Domain Specific Review Board for research ethics reviews.
Last year, the SingHealth board reviewed 1,141 studies, while the NHG board reviewed 1,124.
Of these studies, 150 were multi-centre studies that required approval from both boards. One recent example was a trial launched in 2010 to assess two treatments for liver cancer. It involved 28 centres in 11 countries, including Singapore.
The two groups yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to recognise each other's ethics reviews.
At the ceremony, Mrs Tan Ching Yee, the Ministry of Health's permanent secretary, said: "A harmonised ethics review system will increase efficiency... This is important to enhance the translation of research from bench to bedside, to benefit our patients and citizens."
This article was first published on May 23, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.