Clinical trials in crisis: Four simple methodologic fixes
Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
There is growing consensus that the US clinical trials system is broken, with trial costs and complexity increasing exponentially, and many trials failing to accrue. Yet, concerns about the expense and failure rate of randomized trials are only the tip of the iceberg; perhaps what should worry us most is the number of trials that are not even considered because of projected costs and poor accrual. Several initiatives, including the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative and the "Sensible Guidelines Group" seek to push back against current trends in clinical trials, arguing that all aspects of trials-including design, approval, conduct, monitoring, analysis, and dissemination-should be based on evidence rather than contemporary norms. Proposed here are four methodologic fixes for current clinical trials. The first two aim to simplify trials, reducing costs, and increasing patient acceptability by dramatically reducing eligibility criteria-often to the single criterion that the consenting physician is uncertain which of the two randomized arms is optimal-and by clinical integration, investment in data infrastructure to bring routinely collected data up to research grade to be used as endpoints in trials. The second two methodologic fixes aim to shed barriers to accrual, either by cluster randomization of clinicians (in the case of modifications to existing treatment) or by early consent, where patients are offered the chance of being randomly selected to be offered a novel intervention if disease progresses at a subsequent point. Such solutions may be partial, or result in a new set of problems of their own. Yet, the current crisis in clinical trials mandates innovative approaches: randomized trials have resulted in enormous benefits for patients, and we need to ensure that they continue to do so.