RWE 101 – ISF vs TMF

Investigator Site File (ISF) and Trial (Study) Master File (TMF) are key elements in managing clinical and observational studies. They are distinct but interconnected, and play vital roles in ensuring the documentation, compliance, and overall management of a research study is handled properly.

[1] Investigator Site File (ISF): This is a collection of documents, images, and digital media that an investigator (or a site conducting the research) uses to record the administrative and procedural documentation related to the study. It includes items such as the protocol, study approvals, consent forms, participant information, communication records, and site-specific documentation. The ISF helps demonstrate the site’s compliance with the principles of Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and the applicable regulatory requirements.

[1] Trial Master File (TMF): This is a collection of essential documents that allow the conduct of a clinical trial to be reconstructed and evaluated. It is intended to serve both the interests of the sponsor and the regulatory bodies. The TMF includes a broad range of information, such as the protocol, ethics committee approval, data safety monitoring board reports, informed consent forms, and any other relevant documentation. It should include all the key documents from the ISF, but also additional information at a study-wide level.

Key differences between the ISF and TMF include:

[1] Scope: ISF focuses on documentation at the site level, specific to each location where the study is conducted. TMF encompasses the entire study and includes all sites involved in the study, maintaining a complete record of all essential documents.

[2] Control: ISF is usually maintained by the investigator or staff at the site where the study is being conducted. The TMF, on the other hand, is typically managed and controlled by the study sponsor.

[3] Documentation: While both files hold critical study documents, the ISF is more focused on site-specific operational documents (e.g., informed consent forms), while the TMF has more strategic and overall study control documents.

[4] Purpose: While both files are crucial for audits and inspections, the ISF is particularly important for demonstrating the compliance of the individual site, while the TMF helps provide a comprehensive overview of the study’s conduct and ensures that the trial can be adequately reconstructed if necessary.

Please note that while these are general guidelines, the exact nature of the ISF and TMF may vary depending on the specifics of the study, the regulatory framework, and the procedures established by the sponsor.

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