Departmental research projects on the Human Research Act

As part of departmental research efforts into research involving humans, the FOPH commissions studies on specific issues. The findings of these studies form the basis of the evaluation of the law. An overview of the projects so far can be found below. 

Survey of people taking part in clinical trials in Switzerland

The Department of Clinical Research at the University of Basel (DKF) was commissioned by the Federal Office of Public Health to conduct a nationwide survey of people taking part in clinical trials (INPUT survey). The aim is to find out which experiences trial participants make. The findings from the survey can be used to review and improve legal regulations and their recommendations for implementation of human research in the interests of study participants. The survey will be conducted anonymously.

The FOPH would like to thank all respondents who support the survey:

  • Main responsible persons for the clinical studies: for contacting the involved study teams 
  • Study teams / staff in the clinics who invite the persons participating in the selected clinical trials to take part in the INPUT survey;
  • All persons participating in clinical trials who accept the invitation to take part in the survey and share their experiences by completing the anonymous survey online or as a paper questionnaire.

More information about the survey can be found on the homepage of the DKF.

Feasibility analysis on surveying study participants

In order to assess the effectiveness of human research regulation in Switzerland, it’s important to find out the opinion of individuals involved in implementing these regulations or those directly affected by them. Of particular interest are the perspectives, views and expectations of those people who take part in research projects and clinical studies. However, limited research has been conducted in this area, primarily due to challenges in identifying and contacting participants often attributed to data protection provisions. Therefore, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has commissioned the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) to review academic literature for surveys targeting study participants. The goal is to highlight the methodologies employed in these surveys and identify their respective strengths and weaknesses. Alongside literature review, interviews with experts in the field of human research in Switzerland were conducted. The aim of this combined work was to evaluate the feasibility of conducting a study participant survey and make proposals on how such surveys could be optimised. Three potential methods for contacting participants were identified: 1) Initiate contact through investigators, 2) Initiate contact through patient organisations and 3) Issue a request via social media channels. The advantages and disadvantages of each method are presented. If a survey is held, the following should be asked first: How well do participants understand the information sheet and informed consent form? How well informed do the participants feel? Why do people participate in a study?  How do patients assess and balance the risks associated with participating in a study in comparison to the potential opportunities?

In German: Machbarkeitsstudie – Befragung von an klinischen Versuchen teilnehmenden Personen (PDF, 639 kB, 02.02.2024) 

English Publication: Methodological approaches for conducting follow-up research with clinical trial participants: a scoping review and expert interviews

Implementation of the provisions of Article 34 HRA by researchers and ethics committees

Before existing data and samples can be used for research purposes, persons from whom the data and samples originate must have given their consent to this further use. However, according to Article 34 HRA (Human Research Act), data and samples can in exceptional cases be used in research projects even when no consent has been given by the person concerned. But certain conditions must be fulfilled before this can happen. The evaluation of the Human Research Act has shown that researchers are asking for Article 34 HRA to be applied so frequently that these can hardly be seen as exceptions any more. The studies below ask why the application of Article 34 HRA is being requested so frequently and examine how the ethics committees can assess these requests. To this end, one of the studies characterises applications from the year 2019 and analyses the decisions of the ethics committees. In the other study, ethics committee staff are asked about the procedures in place. Neither is a legal treatise, they are rather analyses of how the law is implemented by researchers and executive authorities.

Implementation of the provisions of Article 34 HRA by researchers and ethics committees (in German) (PDF, 1 MB, 01.02.2021)

Summary: Implementation of the provisions of Article 34 HRA by researchers and ethics committees (PDF, 107 kB, 01.02.2021)

Survey of ethics committees on the application of Art. 34 HRA (in German) (PDF, 614 kB, 12.03.2021)

Survey of ethics committees on the application of Art. 34 HRA - summary (PDF, 164 kB, 12.03.2021)

Characterisation of projects in terms of the further use of data and samples

The evaluation of the Human Research Act (HRA) showed that researchers find the requirements governing specific projects relating to the further use of data and samples too complex and time-consuming. These projects were frequently referred to as “feasibility studies”, “exploratory studies” and “pilot projects”. The aim of this in-depth analysis was to describe these projects in more detail and to highlight the associated problems.  

Summary: Characterisation of projects in terms of the further use of data and samples (PDF, 190 kB, 28.02.2020)

Report: Characterisation of projects in terms of the further use of data and samples (in German) (PDF, 798 kB, 28.02.2020)

Quality and transparency in clinical research

Clearly structured and comprehensive trial protocols are essential to ensuring the quality of clinical trials, in particular with regard to the following aspects:

  • Safety and welfare of participating persons
  • Significance of the data obtained
  • Successful completion of the trials
  • Credibility of the findings

Incomplete protocols can have detrimental consequences for patients, decision-making processes in health policy, the scientific community and society as a whole.
The aim of the government research project was to compare approved randomised clinical trials from 2012 and 2016 (before and after the Human Research Act came into force). It looked at the effect of two separate elements on the correctness and completeness of trial protocols, namely the international recommendations for the minimum content of protocols (SPIRIT) and the Human Research Act. The project also examined the issue of transparency, in particular how many of the trials in the study were recorded in a register before being launched.

Summary of "ASPIRE" study (PDF, 88 kB, 19.07.2019)

Full report of "ASPIRE" study (PDF, 503 kB, 19.07.2019)

Statistics and survey on the implementation of the Swiss Human Research Act (HRA)

This three-part departmental research project, commissioned by the FOPH in collaboration with swissethics, enables for the first time a comprehensive quantitative description of projects involving research on humans and the corresponding legal regulation. It was conducted on the basis of the BASEC electronic submission system, which has been in operation since the beginning of 2016.

Overarching report covering all three sub-projects (statistics, survey and jurisdictional inquiries)

In this section the most important results of all three sub-projects were examined and set in context with each other.

Overarching report on statistics, survey and jurisdictional inquiries (PDF, 1 MB, 20.06.2019)

Sub-project 1: Descriptive statistics on research within the scope of the Swiss Human Research Act

Research projects submitted to and approved by the cantonal ethics committees in 2016 and 2017, plus the processes used for approval and the times taken to process them, were described statistically on an aggregate basis and by various different characteristics. This was done using uniformly gathered structured data from BASEC, the ethics committee’s electronic system for submitting applications. This process will be repeated for the years 2018 to 2020 to provide statistics enabling a longer-term evaluation of the development of projects involving re-search on humans in Switzerland.

2016 statistics on projects involving research on humans (PDF, 1 MB, 18.04.2019)

2017 statistics on projects involving research on humans (PDF, 1 MB, 18.04.2019)  

2018 statistics on projects involving research on humans (PDF, 2 MB, 18.10.2019)

Sub-project 2: Survey of researchers on implementation of the Human Research Act

All researchers who used BASEC in the year 2017 to submit a project involving research on humans for approval were questioned about their attitudes and their experience with the legal regulations and the e-forcement of these regulations by the authorities responsible (cantonal ethics committees and Swissmedic).

Survey Summary (PDF, 122 kB, 15.04.2019)

Main report on survey (PDF, 7 MB, 15.07.2019)

Complete report on all questions (PDF, 689 kB, 15.07.2019)

Questionnaire (PDF, 366 kB, 15.04.2019)

Additional evaluation of selected questions (PDF, 678 kB, 15.04.2019)

Further working materials (English and German) (PDF, 142 kB, 15.04.2019)

Sub-project 3: Characteristics of jurisdictional inquiries

A survey of researchers who had submitted so-called jurisdictional inquiries (clarifications of responsibility) via BASEC was conducted. Thanks to this survey and an analysis of the documents submitted in connection with jurisdictional inquiries, it was possible to identify demarcation problems and uncertainty experienced by researchers in dealing with the regulations on research involving humans.

Summary on jurisdictional inquiries (PDF, 118 kB, 15.04.2019)

Report on jurisdictional inquiries, including questionnaire (English) (PDF, 1 MB, 15.04.2019)

Costs of randomised clinical trials in Switzerland before and after enactment of the legislation on human research

A research team from the University of Basel was mandated by the FOPH to investigate the effects that the legislation on human research will have on the costs and workloads entailed by randomised clinical trials in Switzerland.
The individual cost components and time inputs required for planning and executing a clinical trial were listed in a standardised form. The result is a user-friendly tool that will assist clinical researchers in planning and carrying out their studies.
Despite intensive work, the study’s authors only succeeded to a very limited extent in allocating standard costs to the listed cost items and comparing the trial-preparation costs before and after enactment of the legislation on human research. This was attributed firstly to a lack of information about the clinical trials (especially with regard to industry-financed studies) and secondly to data-protection considerations.
The study’s authors found a discrepancy between the reported very high costs associated with randomised clinical trials on the one hand and the lack of transparent and valid evidence on the other. It is strongly recommended that tools be used to improve the planning and monitoring of costs and workloads involved in clinical trials.

Summary costs clinical trials (PDF, 162 kB, 31.01.2019)

Final report costs clinical trials (PDF, 1 MB, 31.01.2019)

Publication Speich et al 2019, PLOSone (PDF, 639 kB, 16.05.2019)

Table for planning and monitoring of costs and workloads involved in clinical trials (copyright Speich et al 2019, PLOSone)

What the general public know and think about human research and the rules governing it

On 7 March 2010, the Swiss population voted in favour of the constitutional article governing human research by a substantial majority of 77.2%. This indicates that the country’s citizens felt it was important to have national legislation to govern research on humans. However, surveys carried out after the referendum showed that some voters had a somewhat sketchy knowledge of the purpose and content of the legislation in question. This study reflects how much people in Switzerland know about human research and the laws governing it and what their attitudes are eight years down the line. It was carried out between March and May 2018. The aim was to discover how much Swiss citizens know about research involving humans in their country, whether they feel adequately protected by the current legislation, and whether they would be willing to take part in research projects.

Executive summary. What the general public know and think about human research and the rules governing it (PDF, 322 kB, 15.10.2018)

Bevölkerungsbefragung im Auftrag des BAG (only in German) (PDF, 482 kB, 15.10.2018)

The regulation of biobanks and health databases in Europe: A comparative law study

This report is a comparative law study on biobanks and health databases in Europe. It presents the legislation applicable in a number of European countries along with a range of international texts, such as the Taipei Declaration and the regulations of the European Union and the Council of Europe. A comparison is made by looking at topics related to the subject, such as biobank governance, participant protection, data protection and supervisory authorities. The main purpose of this study is to obtain an overview of the systems selected by the various countries, and of the advantages and disadvantages they entail.

The regulation of biobanks and health databases in Europe (only in french) (PDF, 1 MB, 02.10.2018)

Implementation of the requirements for further use of biological material and data

If data or biological material produced during the treatment of diseases or in research projects – i.e which is already available – is to be used for research purposes, certain requirements of the Human Research Act (HRA) must be observed. For example, persons from whom the data or samples originate must have agreed to their re-use, and research projects in which these data and projects are used must be approved by an ethics committee. The departmental research project investigated how researchers and licensing authorities implement the requirements of the HRA, how complex the implementation is, and what effects can be observed on re-use research.

Weiterverwendung von biologischem Material und Daten (only in German) (PDF, 1 MB, 12.07.2018)

Further Use of Biological Material and Data - Summary (PDF, 353 kB, 12.07.2018)

Linguistic analysis of “comprehensibility” in research involving humans

People may only be involved in a research project if, among other requirements, they have given their informed consent. For this consent to be valid, the information provided must be “comprehensible” (Article 16 of the Human Research Act, HRA). The formal requirement that all documents containing information for participants must be comprehensible is therefore a fundamentally significant aspect of research involving humans. This departmental research project takes a linguistic look at how the comprehensibility requirement is implemented by researchers and oversight authorities.
The project consists of the following modules:
1. On the basis of a report surveying the available research literature, a methodological approach or “comprehensibility model” was developed as the foundation for analysis conducted in the subsequent sub-projects.
2. By way of a case study, the comprehensibility of the Model of General Consent 2017/1 (general consent model) published by the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS) and swissethics was evaluated.
3. Ethics committees must check the comprehensibility of documentation provided to potential participants. The third module shows what concepts of comprehensibility this check is based on for three selected ethics committees.
4. Researchers must inform people who are considering taking part in a research project. The fourth sub-project investigates researchers’ concepts and procedures concerning information.

Summary Informed Consent in an Intelligible Form (PDF, 361 kB, 15.04.2019)

Verständlichkeitsstudie Informed Consent (only in German) (PDF, 4 MB, 01.09.2016)

Verständlichkeitsstudie Generalkonsent (only in German (PDF, 4 MB, 21.06.2018))

Verständlichkeit von schriftlicher Aufklärung: Auffassungen und Strategien von Ethikkommissionen (only in German) (PDF, 788 kB, 26.03.2019)

Informed Consent-Aufklärung aus Sicht der Forschenden (only in German) (PDF, 445 kB, 18.04.2019)

The intention is to use the findings from these four projects to develop measures to further improve comprehensibility.

Rules governing damages and liability in human research

Only shortly after the Human Research Act (HRA) came into force, a motion was submitted to parliament (the Swiss National Council) calling for an amendment of the law reversing the burden of proof in favour of trial participants (subjects). According to the motion, the onus should be on the sponsor of the study to prove that there is no connection between the research procedure and the impairment suffered, rather than on the subject to prove that there is a connection between the two.
To get a thorough overview of the legal situation and the practical relevance of liability issues, the FOPH commissioned asim (the Swiss Academy of Insurance Medicine) at University Hospital Basel to investigate the issues related to the liability regime in practice, and in particular to undertake an international comparison of the question of burden of proof.

Humanforschungsgesetz: Evaluation Haftungsregelung (only in German) (PDF, 337 kB, 10.01.2017)

Evaluation of Liability Regulation in the Swiss Human Research Act - Summary (PDF, 3 MB, 30.11.2015)

Update: Evaluation Haftungsregelung (only in German) (PDF, 300 kB, 09.08.2018)

Update: Evaluation of Liability Regulation - Summary (PDF, 781 kB, 09.08.2018)

Pilot study: categorisation of clinical trials

The Human Research Act (HRA) has entailed a number of changes, one of the most important of which is a system for categorising research projects (risk classification). This system closely follows the approach to categorising projects recommended by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and approved by that organisation in 2013. Before the HRA entered into force, the Clinical Trial Unit at the University of Bern conducted a scientific pilot study to test the categorisation approach.
Various countries and regions, including the European Union, are currently working on or implementing new rules for conducting clinical trials. They all take account of the system of categorisation recommended by the OECD. For this reason, the findings of the pilot study are attracting a great deal of international interest.

A pilot test of the new Swiss regulatory procedure for categorizing clinical trials per risk: A randomized controlled trial (PDF, 1 MB, 03.01.2017)

Enforcement by the supervisory authorities before the entry into force of the Human Research Act (HRA)

This departmental research project addresses the impact of the HRA on enforcement by the federal authorities cantonal ethics committees. The project takes the form of a before and after investigation.
INTERFACE Politikstudien Forschung Beratung GmbH examined the situation before the FRA entered into force by analysing data and documents and conducting guided interviews.
The investigation of the situation after entry into force is scheduled for 2017/18.

Analysis of the execution of th research Act (HRA) by the competent authorities before it enters into force – Summary (PDF, 104 kB, 03.01.2017)

Overview of research involving humans in Switzerland

There is still no comprehensive description of research involving humans in Switzerland in its qualitative and quantitative totality. For this reason the Büro für Arbeits- und Sozialpolitische Studien (BASS) research bureau has been commissioned to draw up an overview of human research in Switzerland.

Überblick über die Humanforschung (only in German) (PDF, 1 MB, 03.01.2017)


Human research legislation

In Switzerland, research involving humans is governed by the Human Research Act and its implementing ordinances. The legislation is primarily designed to safeguard the dignity, privacy and health of people involved in research.

Last modification 23.05.2024

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Division of Biomedicine
Human Research Section
Schwarzenburgstrasse 157
3003 Bern
Tel. +41 58 463 51 54

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