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Monday, January 7, 2008

Pre-Study Visits and Site Initiation Visits

Depending on the company you work for and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), you may be required to complete an in-person Pre-Study Visit (PSV) before an investigator is initiated to join a clinical trial. In some cases, you may even be able to perform this via telephone, web-conference, or it might be waived altogether (say, for example, an investigator your firm has collaborated with in the past 18 mos or so).

The objectives of a pre-study visit are to review the adequacy of the site, the training and experience of the study staff, the access to the right patient population, and the site's interest in the study. If the site isn't motivated or if they are already participating in studies that would compete for the patient pool, they may not be a good recruiter. It is expensive to start up a site, monitor them, and supply them with all the study materials and training. Ideally, you would only open sites that would perform well but in reality, there are always 'dud' sites in every study (Read my related post on Selecting Qualified Investigators). This is typically a 2-4 hour visit. After your visit, you will likely need to complete a report template or assessment and send a follow-up letter to thank the site for hosting you and inform them whether or not they have been chosen to participate in the study.

At an Investigator Meeting there may be
presentations and break out sessions
to answer questions and train study
staff with the skills required to properly
execute the protocol.
The initiation of a site can sometimes occur at an Investigator Meeting (IM) where all the potential investigators are brought together in (a typically quite fancy) hotel or other conference arena to receive group training on the new study. More often, however, this will actually take place - on-site. This is usually a 4-8 hour visit and you may be accompanied by a Project Leader, Medical Monitor, or even Data Management personnel just depending on the desire of the sponsor. Before your visit, you will coordinate a convenient time for the study site and confirm your visit with a letter informing them when you will arrive and what the objectives of the visit will be. It is important to physically be at the site so, as a monitor, you can visit the labs, pharmacies, and other areas where the research will be conducted to ensure they are adequate. For example, both labs and pharmacies should have restricted access and the site should know where it will store the Investigational Medicine/Product (IP) and this location should be locked. If the site will be storing blood or tissue samples, you will inspect their freezers and ensure that they maintain adequate temperature logs and have standardized sample handling protocols and training.

During your initiation visit you will probably spend a great deal of time training or reviewing the study protocol design and answering questions from the site personnel. You will also want the Principal Investigator (PI) to be available for specific parts of your presentation. Specifically, you will need to discuss the Investigator's Responsibilities as related to the regulations to ensure there is agreement and understanding (The investigator may choose to delegate some of his/her responsibilities but ultimately, they will be responsible for all actions and conduct of the study. Specific study related activities can only be delegated to those who posses adequate training and experience -- a secretary cannot perform a Physical Exam, etc.); You will explain publication policies and documentation responsibilities; You will inform the PI that you will need timely access to subject's records and the acceptable time frame for completing patient data case report forms (CRFs) and answering queries regarding the data). Document everything that is discussed so you can add it to your report and if there are any questions that are unresolved at the end of your visit, you can include resolution for those in your follow-up letter after the visit.

Email me if you have more specific questions. Now that our study is underway, next time I will discuss how and why we complete routine monitoring visits throughout the study conduct period.

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