A few years back, I was working with a small biotech companies as they were ramping up to begin their first-ever pivotal trial. One of the team leads had just produced a timeline for enrollment in the trial, which was being circulated for feedback. Seeing as they had never conducted a trial of this size before, I was curious about how he had arrived at his estimate. My bigger clients had data from prior trials (both their own and their
He proudly shared with me the secret of his methodology: he had looked up some comparable studies on ClinicalTrials.gov, counted the number of listed sites, and then compared that to the sample size and start/end dates to arrive at an enrollment rate for each study. He’d then used the average of all those rates to determine how long his study would take to complete.
If you’ve ever used ClinicalTrials.gov in your work, you can immediately determine the multiple, fatal flaws in that line of reasoning. The data simply doesn’t work like that. And to be fair, it wasn’t designed to work like that: the registry is intended to provide public access to what research is being done, not provide competitive intelligence on patient recruitment.
I’m therefore sympathetic, but skeptical, of a recent article in PLoS Medicine, Disclosure of Investigators' Recruitment Performance in Multicenter Clinical Trials: A Further Step for Research Transparency, that proposes to make reporting of enrollment a mandatory part of the trial registry. The authors would like to see not only actual randomized patients for each principal investigator, but also how that compares to their “recruitment target”.
The entire article is thought-provoking and worth a read. The authors’ main arguments in favor of mandatory recruitment reporting can be boiled down to:
- Recruitment is many trials is poor, and public disclosure of recruitment performance will improve it
- Sponsors, patient groups, and other stakeholders will be interested in the information
- The data “could prompt queries” from other investigators
Image: Philip Johnson's Glass House from Staib via Wikimedia Commons.