Data monitoring committees: Promoting best practices to address emerging challenges

Thomas R. Fleming, David L. Demets, Matthew T. Roe, Janet Wittes, Karim A. Calis, Amit N. Vora, Alan Meisel, Raymond P. Bain, Marvin A. Konstam, Michael J. Pencina, David J. Gordon, Kenneth W. Mahaffey, Charles H. Hennekens, James D. Neaton, Gail D. Pearson, Tomas L G Andersson, Marc A. Pfeffer, Susan S. Ellenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose: Data monitoring committees are responsible for safeguarding the interests of study participants and assuring the integrity and credibility of clinical trials. The independence of data monitoring committees from sponsors and investigators is essential in achieving this mission. Creative approaches are needed to address ongoing and emerging challenges that potentially threaten data monitoring committees' independence and effectiveness. Methods: An expert panel of representatives from academia, industry and government sponsors, and regulatory agencies discussed these challenges and proposed best practices and operating principles for effective functioning of contemporary data monitoring committees. Results and Conclusions: Prospective data monitoring committee members need better training. Options could include didactic instruction as well as apprenticeships to provide real-world experience. Data monitoring committee members should be protected against legal liability arising from their service. While avoiding breaches in confidentiality of interim data remains a high priority, data monitoring committees should have access to unblinded efficacy and safety data throughout the trial to enable informed judgments about risks and benefits. Because overly rigid procedures can compromise their independence, data monitoring committees should have the flexibility necessary to best fulfill their responsibilities. Data monitoring committee charters should articulate principles that guide the data monitoring committee process rather than list a rigid set of requirements. Data monitoring committees should develop their recommendations by consensus rather than through voting processes. The format for the meetings of the data monitoring committee should maintain the committee's independence and clearly establish the leadership of the data monitoring committee chair. The independent statistical group at the Statistical Data Analysis Center should have sufficient depth of knowledge about the study at hand and experience with trials in general to ensure that the data monitoring committee has access to timely, reliable, and readily interpretable insights about emerging evidence in the clinical trial. Contracts engaging data monitoring committee members for industry-sponsored trials should have language customized to the unique responsibilities of data monitoring committee members rather than use language appropriate to consultants for product development. Regulatory scientists would benefit from experiencing data monitoring committee service that does not conflict with their regulatory responsibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-123
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Trials
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partially supported by funding provided by a National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) grant titled Statistical Issues in AIDS Research (R37 AI 29168). A.N.V. is funded by NIH T-32 training grant T32 HL069749 and L30 HL124592; no other relevant disclosures. C.H.H. is funded by the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the US Food and Drug Administration; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; or the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017.


  • Independence
  • apprenticeship
  • charter
  • confidentiality
  • experience
  • indemnification
  • operating principles
  • regulatory
  • training


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