Regulatory science

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Regulatory science refers broadly to the scientific and technical foundations upon which regulations are based in various industries - particularly those involving health or safety. Regulatory bodies employing such principles in the US include for example the FDA for food and medical products, the EPA for the environment, and OSHA for work safety. "Regulatory Science" is contrasted from regulatory affairs and regulatory law, which refer to the administrative or legal aspects of regulation, in that the former is focused on the regulations' scientific (natural, not social) underpinnings and concerns - rather than the regulations' promulgation, implementation, compliance, or enforcement.

Regulatory science is industry sector specific[edit]

Regulatory science is an emerging area of interest within pharmaceutical medicine as the shaping and implementation of legislation and guidelines. One definition of “regulatory science” is the science of developing new tools, standards and approaches to evaluate the efficacy, safety, quality and performance of medical products in order to assess benefit-risk and facilitate a sound and transparent regulatory decision-making. It has been recognized as having a significant impact on the industry’s ability to bring new medicines and medical devices to patients in need. Regulatory science challenges current concepts of benefit/risk assessment, submission and approval strategies, patient’s involvement and ethical aspects. It creates the platform for launching new ideas – not only by the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory authorities, but also by, for example, academia, who wants to contribute to better use of their research activities within medical aspects. Regulatory science has the potential as an enabler for directing companies towards more efficient global development of medical products as well as more robust quality decision-making processes.


The origin of the term regulatory science is unknown. It was probably coined sometimes in the late 1970s in an undated memorandum prepared by A. Alan Moghissi who was describing scientific issues that the newly formed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was facing. During that period the EPA was forced to meet legally mandated deadlines to make decisions that would require reliance upon science that was not meeting conventional scientific requirements. At that time the prevailing view was that there was no need to establish a new scientific discipline because “science is science” regardless of how its application. In the spring of 1985 Moghissi established the Institute for Regulatory Science in the Commonwealth of Virginia as a non-profit organization with the objective to perform scientific studies “at the interface between science and the regulatory system”


Based on several decades of experience regulatory science is logically defined as a distinct scientific discipline constituting the (natural, not social) scientific foundation of regulatory, legislative, and judicial decisions. Much like many scientific disciplines that have evolved within the last several decades, regulatory science is both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and relies upon a large number of basic and applied scientific disciplines.

Consistent with its mission, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that “Regulatory science is the science of developing new tools, standards and approaches to assess the safety, efficacy, quality and performance of FDA-regulated products.”(1) To the extent that goes beyond discovery and into development, the term "Regulatory Science & Engineering" is sometimes employed (see also "Regulatory Engineering" below).

There have been several attempts to define regulatory science. In many cases there are claims that there is a difference between regulatory science and “academic science” or “research science” (2). The primary problem is the lack of appreciation that many branches of science are evolving and much of the evolving science includes inherent uncertainties.

Regulatory engineering[edit]

Engineering is the development of new products and processes, hence regulatory engineering encompasses principally the development of products and processes to facilitate or better examine regulations or their scientific foundations. Another related segment of regulatory science deal with the application of engineering design or analysis to operations such as the safety of nuclear and other power plants, chemical production facilities, mining operations, and air transportation.

Sometimes the term "regulatory engineer(ing)" is misused to refer to essentially administrative or regulatory roles dealing with organizing or coordinating regulatory matters for an organization; however, "engineering" refers only to functional design of products and processes, and in many jurisdictions this definition is legally enforced (see Regulation and licensure in engineering).

Areas of Focus[edit]

Human health[edit]

By far the predominant foci of Regulatory Science pertain to human health and well-being. This realm covers a broad range of scientific areas - including pollution and toxicology, work safety, food, drugs, and numerous others.


Though secondary to human interest, regulations targeting animals and the environment can also be included. (For example, the US Clean Water Act is based upon an interest in protecting water quality for its own sake, in contrast with the Clean Air Act which is premised upon protecting air quality only for the sake of human health; however, these are ideological policy premises rather than scientific matters themselves.)

The US Department of Agriculture regulates animal care, and the FDA regulates humaneness for animal studies. Regulatory ecology covers protection of various species, protection of wetlands, and numerous other regulated areas including ecotoxicology.

Regulatory Economics[edit]

There are numerous economic decisions in the regulatory process including the economics part of cost-benefit analysis.

Science in Legislation and in Courts[edit]

Although often less than fully recognized the scientific foundation of legislative decisions are included in regulatory science and should be based on reliable science. Similarly courts have recognized the need to rely upon information that meets scientific requirements.

Scientific Foundation of Regulatory Science[edit]

Based on the unique needs of regulatory science Moghissi et al. developed the concept of Best Available Science (BAS) and Metrics for Evaluation of Scientific Claims” (MESC) derived from BAS.[1] The BAS/MESC system is rather complex, but its basic requirements are as follows:

Principles of the BAS/MESC[edit]

  1. Open-mindedness principle: This principle implies the willingness to accept new knowledge and careful evaluation of the claim. Historical evidence suggests numerous misdeeds by theocracies, individual scientists and others in rejecting scientifically valid ideas

Principle of skepticism: This principle requires that those who make a scientific claim are obligated to provide sufficient evidence supporting their claim. The skepticism principle makes sure that the open-mindedness principle is not misused. Universal scientific principles: All scientific disciplines use certain methods, processes, and techniques in pursuit of their professional activities. The universal scientific principles (USP) imply that there are certain principles applicable to virtually all scientific disciplines and is valid regardless of the nature of the discipline. Reproducibility principle: Reproducibility is the true proof of the validity of a scientific claim and separates undisputed areas of science form those that include assumptions, interpretations, and in some cases, the inclusion of ideological and societal objectives in a scientific assertion.


1. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) The Promise of regulatory science FDA 2010

2. Jasanoff S. The fifth branch: science advisors as policy makers. Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press 1990

3. Moghissi AA, Swentnam M, Love BR, Straja SR. Best Available Science; its evolution, taxonomy, and application, second edition. Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute Press; 2010

  1. ^ 3. Moghissi AA, Swentnam M, Love BR, Straja SR. Best Available Science; its evolution, taxonomy, and application, second edition. Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute Press; 2010