A new umbrella association for clinical research in Switzerland held its first general assembly at the end of August.

A joint initiative between the Swiss National Science Foundation (FNS/SNF) and the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (ASSM), the Swiss Clinical Trial Organisation (the original name is in English) will co-ordinate and harmonise the activities of trial centres, establish unified quality standards for the sector, and undertake pre- and post-graduate training of clinical researchers.

The wider goal is to create an optimal environment for clinical research in Switzerland by committing to:

- A high-quality research culture, harmonised at national level, with the necessary training provision for new clinical researchers
- Setting up a national network that takes in the various trial centres, academia, industry and the Swiss regulatory authorities
- Integrating Swiss clinical research within international networks
- A regulatory framework conducive to clinical research

The members of the Swiss Clinical Trial Organisation (SCTO) include university and cantonal hospitals, faculties of medicine and the ASSM. The first president of the association is Professor Peter Meier-Abt and Dr Claudia Weiss is head of the SCTO’s secretariat.

This latter grew out of a national co-ordinating body originally set in motion by the ASSM at the end of 2007, with the aim of establishing a network of clinical trial units (CTUs) in Switzerland.

Under Dr Weiss’ leadership, the SCTO secretariat has already set up working groups to tackle issues such as developing common guidelines for data and project management in the CTU networks, and standardising the existing guidelines for clinical examinations.

The SCTO initiative was a response to criticisms over the years that clinical research in Switzerland had sometimes lagged behind international standards, the FNS noted. In particular, there was a lack of co-ordination and networking between different specialities in the sector, resulting in clinical trials with too few patients that pursued too similar objectives in parallel, yet with heterogeneous procedures.

Consequently, the FNS made galvanising the clinical research sector a priority in its programmes for the years 2004-2007 and 2008-2011. An initial step was to encourage the creation of multidisciplinary clinical trial units with professional infrastructures in six Swiss hospitals. The first three CTUs were established in Basel, Berne and Geneva in mid-2007, followed by three more in Zurich, Lausanne and St, Galien in May 2008.

These centres offer support to scientists in planning, implementing and evaluating clinical trials, in line with national and international guidelines. The hospitals that house the FNS-backed CTUs are among the founding members of the Swiss Clinical Trial Organisation.