Improving patient informed consent for haemophilia gene therapy: the case for change

Improving patient informed consent for haemophilia gene therapy: the case for change
Laurence Woollard, Richard Gorman, Dakota J. Rosenfelt
Therapeutic Advances in Rare Disease, 31 August 2021; 2 pp 1-16
Open Access
Abstract
Adeno-associated virus-based gene therapy points to a coming transformation in the treatment of people living with haemophilia, promising sustained bleed control and potential improvement in quality of life. Nevertheless, the consequences of introducing new genetic material are not trivial. The perceived benefits should not minimise the challenges facing patients in understanding the long-term risks and providing a valid and meaningful informed consent, whether in a research or clinical setting. Informed consent is a fundamentally important doctrine in both medical ethics and health law, upholding an individual’s right to define their personal goals and make their own autonomous choices. Patients should be enabled to recognise their clinical situation, understand the implications of treatment and integrate every facet of their life into their decision. This review describes informed consent processes for haemophilia gene therapy clinical trials, factors affecting patients’ decision making and the availability of patient-centred decision support interventions, to ensure that patients’ interests are being protected. Regulatory guidance has been published for physicians and manufacturers in haemophilia on informed consent, including for gene therapy, while best practice recommendations for patient–physician discussions are available. In all settings, however, communicating and presenting highly technical and complex therapeutic information is challenging, especially where multiple barriers to scientific knowledge and health literacy exist. We propose several evidence-informed strategies to enhance the consent procedure, such as utilising validated literacy and knowledge assessment tools as well as participatory learning environments over an extended period, to ensure that patients are fully cognisant of the consent they give or deny. Further research is needed to define new, creative approaches for patient education and the upholding of ethical values in the informed consent process for gene therapy. The lessons learnt and approaches developed within haemophilia could set the gold standard for good practice in ensuring ethical preparedness amidst advances in genetic therapies.

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