Introduction: Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM) studies provide a unique platform for studying the pathophysiology of infectious diseases and accelerated testing of vaccines and drugs in controlled settings. However, ethical issues shroud them as the disease-causing pathogen is intentionally inoculated into healthy consenting volunteers, and effective treatment may or may not be available. We explored the perceptions of the members of institutional ethics committees (IECs) in India about CHIM studies.
Methods: This qualitative exploratory study, conducted across seven sites in India, included 11 focused group discussions (FGD) and 31 indepth interviews (IDI). A flexible approach was used with the aid of a topic guide. The data were thematically analyzed using grounded theory and an inductive approach. Emerging themes and sub-themes were analyzed, and major emergent themes were elucidated.
Results: Seventy-two IEC members participated in the study including 21 basic medical scientists, 29 clinicians, 9 lay people, 6 legal experts and 7 social scientists. Three major themes emerged from this analysis—apprehensions about conduct of CHIM studies in India, a perceived need for CHIM studies in India and risk mitigation measures needed to protect research participants and minimize the associated risks.
Conclusion: Development of a specific regulatory and ethical framework, training of research staff and ethics committee members, and ensuring specialized research infrastructure along with adequate community sensitization were considered essential before initiation of CHIM studies in India