The mission of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) is to advance public health through guidance on health research including ethics, medical product development and safety. CIOMS is an international nongovernmental organization established jointly by World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1949. CIOMS represents a substantial proportion of the biomedical scientific community through its member organizations.
Publications include ‘Clinical Research in Resource – Limited Settings’ (2021) and ‘International Ethical Guidelines for Health-related Research Involving Humans ‘ (2016).
In 1948, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) consulted World Health Organization (WHO) about the possibility of establishing an organization for facilitating more coordination in the planning and timing of international medical congresses. An agreement between UNESCO and WHO was made for the establishment of a permanent Council for Coordination of International Medical Congresses. The council was formally constituted at a jointly sponsored conference in Brussels in 1949 as a non-governmental organization, with financial assistance from the two parent organizations, UNESCO and WHO.
The purpose of the council was described as being to facilitate the exchange of views and scientific information in the medical sciences by securing continuity and coordination between international organizations of medical sciences, by making their work known, and by providing them with material aid where necessary. This was to be achieved through the exchange of information and by the provision of material and financial assistance to congresses and to the individuals attending them.
The scope of activities of the council was gradually broadened to include other forms of international collaboration in medical sciences in addition to the coordination of congresses. Consequently, in 1952 the name of the council was changed to the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) and its statutes were revised.
At the end of the 1950s, CIOMS organized a meeting under the joint auspices of UNESCO and WHO, “to discuss the principles, organization and scope of “controlled clinical trials”, which must be carried out if new methods or preparations used for the treatment of disease are to be accurately assessed clinically”. The meeting took place March 1959 in Vienna, under the chairmanship of Austin Bradford Hill, at that time director of the UK Medical Research Council’s Statistical Research Unit. In spite of some hesitations the proceedings were published in English by Blackwell in 1960 under the title of Controlled Clinical Trials, and in French under the title Les essais thérapeutiques cliniques: méthode scientifique d’appréciation d’un traitement.
Until 1966, the activities of CIOMS were focused on the coordination of international medical congresses; grants and loans to member societies for the preparation of congresses and the publication of their proceedings; travel grants to young scientists, especially from developing countries to attend medical congresses; organization of symposia on medical subjects; and assistance to member organizations for the standardization of nomenclature in various medical disciplines.
After 1966, various changes were made – some of which were dictated by the need for economy. Thus, the council was forced to discontinue its grants to young scientists and to curtail its financial assistance to member organizations. More significantly, it was felt that the holding of symposia on purely scientific medical subjects was an unnecessary duplication of the large number of scientific meetings already held.
However, the enormous progress in biology and medicine during the following twenty years, combined with the new world order that came into being as a result of the large number of newly independent countries led to new problems with important social and cultural implications. It was thus that the main activity of CIOMS became the convening of broadly based, multi-disciplinary, and internationally representative conferences concerned not only with the direct impact on society of progress in biomedical science, but also with its implications in such fields as bioethics, health policy, medical education and health services research. These working modalities changed again and gradually led to convening specialized international working groups with the aim of publishing solid balanced reports.
In 2016, CIOMS joined The International Council for Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) as an observer. ICH is bringing together the regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical industry to discuss scientific and technical aspects of drug registration. ICH guidelines form part of official technical requirements for authorization of medicines. Historically several CIOMS pharmacovigilance guidelines served as the basis for ICH guidelines.
The day-to-day management of CIOMS is carried out by the Secretariat in conformity with the directions of the Executive Committee. It consists of the Secretary-General and his/her team and is based in Geneva, Switzerland.