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UK medical research regulators spared the axe

The future of the UK regulating bodies for human-embryo and human-tissue research has been safeguarded, as the government’s announcement yesterday that the two bodies will continue to exist brings a long-running saga to an end.

Back in 2010 the government said that it would axe the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates research on human embryos and fertility treatment. The Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which regulates other human tissue research and organ donation, was also to be wound up. The proposals were unpopular with many researchers, and earlier this year the Department of Health announced that instead it would commission an independent review to see whether the two bodies could be merged.

That review — published yesterday — found that there was “relatively little overlap” in the work of the two regulators and they should continue as separate bodies. This outcome has been accepted by the government.

There will be some changes for researchers. Regulation of tissue used for developing medicinal products is to be transferred from the HTA to the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which already regulates medicines and devices in the United Kingdom.

Those confused by this plethora of acronyms can take heart from some other recommendations from the same report, which the government will also adopt. A new Health Research Authority, which was set up to look at standards and regulation of medical research, will have a duty to provide a ‘one stop shop’ giving advice for people looking to do health research, and all the bodies regulating research will have a duty to cooperate.


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