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Aims: Do biobanks enact policies and plans that allow them to anticipate and respond to potential challenges? If a biobank has one such policy or plan, is it likely to have more? Using survey data from 456 U.S. biobanks, we assess four possible indicators of such “forward-thinking.”

Methods: We present response frequencies and cross-tabulations regarding policies for return of results and ownership of specimens, and for having a formal business plan and a plan for what happens to specimens if the biobank closes. We analyze the relationships among these indicators, using chi-square for tests of statistical significance.

Results: Policies—Sixty-two percent of biobanks have a policy about returning individual research results; 70% have a policy designating ownership of specimens and/or technology. Having these two policies is significantly related (p < 0.001). Plans—34% of biobanks have a formal business plan; 26% have a written plan for what will happen to the specimens if the biobank closes. Having these two plans is significantly related (p < 0.001). Relationships among indicators—only 7% of biobanks are forward-thinking across all four indicators; 12% are forward-thinking across none.

Discussion: The two policies we examined tend to occur together, as do the two plans. These policies and plans seem to tap different aspects of accountability and responsiveness. Specifically, the policies reflect issues most commonly raised in the ethical and legal literature on biobanking, while the plans are indicators of sustainability, a separate area of concern in biobanking.