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Established in 2004, Adelaide’s Bellberry Limited continues to transform the way medical research is undertaken with its unique model for Human Research Ethics Commitees (HRECs).

Traditionally HRECs are attached to universities and hospitals to undertake scientific and ethics reviews of any human based research associated with that institution. However insurance market changes in the early 2000’s saw a number of private hospitals rethink that approach. This gave an opportunity to reconsider the model.

Was there room for a stand-alone Human Research and Ethics Committee to service the valuable health research being undertaken in the private sector?

The answer was yes.

In 2004 Bellberry was established as an independent not-for-profit organisation governed by a Board of non-executive directors, with one Human Research and Ethics Committee meeting monthly.

Fast forward almost 20 years and Bellberry has a panel of more than 130 independent experts and 12 Human Research Ethics Committees reviewing human clinical trials and research across Australia on a weekly basis.

Bellberry’s CEO, Kylie Sproston, says the organisation is now the largest independent reviewer of human subject research in Australia.

“Right from the start it’s been in our DNA to question everything we do and try to do it better,” said Ms Sproston.

Bellberry’s focus on quality and timeliness of the HREC review has revolutionised the time taken to review human research projects from between three and six months to now around 20 days.

“The HRECs are professionally managed and operate 24/7 through a dedicated electronic portal providing a paperless and secure HREC process,” said Ms Sproston.

The standard of Bellberry’s HREC work has been recognised nationally and globally.

In 2020, it became the first organisation in Australia to achieve international accreditation for excellence and ethically sound processes in running HRECs.

This was awarded by the US-based Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP).

Now Bellberry is on the radar for the more than 600 entities accredited with AAHRPP worldwide.
“These entities now have an accredited partner to take the lead on multi-site reviews which many Sponsors and sites find helps to streamline their processes,” said Ms Sproston.

“It provides the potential for additional research opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, with the timeliness and efficiency a great attraction for international companies looking to conduct trials in Australia,” she said.

The onset of Covid-19 threw more challenges at the organisation as it strived to balance the safety of human research participants, while supporting the continuation of important medical research wherever it was safe to do so.

At the same time, they aimed to continue providing the best service possible to the medical research community, recognising that researchers, and the clinical services they were part of where being stretch to provide a public health response to the emergency.

“During the pandemic, innovation was key. We implemented fast-track full HREC meetings that were held within 48 hours of submission to review Covid-related studies,” said Ms Sproston.

“This required enormous commitment from our HRECs and staff and I was very proud of the team’s work during this time.”

Under the NSW Health Early Phase Clinical Trial Scheme, Bellberry HRECs have been appointed for the review of all adult Early Phase Clinical Trials (EPCT) at NSW Public Health Organisation sites.

An advantage is that Bellberry offers single ethical review for multicentre trials which helps to streamline the process for many sites and Sponsors.


The founders of Bellberry made a conscious decision for the organisation to be not-for-profit, directing its funds to Australian medical research by investing in people, projects and direct action.

With participant wellbeing at the organisation’s centre, profits go towards projects that support Bellberry’s aims of protecting the welfare of human research participants and improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of research.

An example of this is the Bellberry-Viertel Fellowship. “We’re honoured to offer this high-value fellowship to some of the best and brightest mid-career researchers in Australia,” said Ms Sproston.

“We offer funding of $1.25 million over five years to allow them to pursue their research, giving them a rare opportunity to focus on what they do best, rather than having to pursue grants,” said Ms Sproston.

The organisation also hosts symposiums bringing patient advocates together with research, regulatory, and medical leaders from across the globe to focus on the biggest medical challenges facing the community.

Bellberry aspires to be the world leader in high quality and independent research ethics reviews as well as knowledge creation to improve health and wellbeing.

As Bellberry continues to innovate the way HREC services are offered and contributes more broadly to medical research in Australia, expect to hear more of this quiet achiever.

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