Emergency use is defined as the use of an investigational drug or biological product with a human subject in a life-threatening situation in which no standard acceptable treatment is available and in which there is not sufficient time to obtain IRB approval. The emergency use provision in the FDA regulations is an exemption from prior review and approval by the IRB. The exemption allows for one emergency use of a test article without prospective IRB review. FDA regulations require that any subsequent use of the investigational product at the institution have prospective IRB review and approval. FDA acknowledges, however, that it would be inappropriate to deny emergency treatment to a second individual if the only obstacle is that the IRB has not had sufficient time to convene a meeting to review the issue.
Life-threatening includes the scope of both life-threatening and severely debilitating, as defined below.
- Life-threatening means diseases or conditions where the likelihood of death is high unless the course of the disease is interrupted and diseases or conditions with potentially fatal outcomes, where the end point of clinical trial analysis is survival. The criteria for life-threatening do not require the condition to be immediately life-threatening or to immediately result in death. Rather, the subjects must be in a life-threatening situation requiring intervention before review at a convened meeting of the IRB is feasible.
- Severely debilitating means diseases or conditions that cause major irreversible morbidity. Examples of severely debilitating conditions include blindness, loss of arm, leg, hand or foot, loss of hearing, paralysis or stroke.
Institutional procedures may require that the IRB be notified prior to such use; however, this notification should not be construed as an IRB approval. Notification should be used by the IRB to initiate tracking to ensure that the investigator files a report within the five day time-frame. The FDA regulations do not provide for expedited IRB approval in emergency situations. Therefore, "interim," "compassionate," "temporary" or other terms for an expedited approval process are not authorized. An IRB must either convene and give "full board" approval of the emergency use or, if the conditions of 21 CFR 56.102(d) are met and it is not possible to convene a quorum within the time available, the use may proceed without any IRB approval.
Some manufacturers will agree to allow the use of the test article, but their policy requires "an IRB approval letter" before the test article will be shipped. If it is not possible to convene a quorum of the IRB within the time available, some IRBs have sent to the sponsor a written statement that the IRB is aware of the proposed use and considers the use to meet the requirements of 21 CFR 56.104(c). Although, this is not an "IRB approval," the acknowledgment letter has been acceptable to manufacturers and has allowed the shipment to proceed.