Da­ta sug­gest US, UK uni­ver­si­ties fall woe­ful­ly short on re­port­ing clin­i­cal tri­al re­sults

Clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta are used by pa­tients, doc­tors and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to make in­formed choic­es about the ben­e­fits and safe­ty of in­ter­ven­tions — while the meth­ods and re­sults of all tri­als are cru­cial to the pace and di­rec­tion of sci­en­tif­ic progress. How­ev­er, there is a large body of ev­i­dence that sug­gests that com­plet­ed clin­i­cal tri­als are com­mon­ly left un­re­port­ed, and ed­u­ca­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions in the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom — ar­guably the two biggest re­gions that breed the bulk of med­ical in­no­va­tion — have emerged as one of the key cul­prits guilty of these vi­o­la­tions.

In the Unit­ed States, Con­gress passed a law in 2007 re­quir­ing tri­al spon­sors — in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties — to post the re­sults of cer­tain clin­i­cal tri­als on clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov with­in a year of tri­al com­ple­tion, and a decade lat­er in Jan­u­ary 2017 the rule was fi­nal­ized. Since 2017, 40 lead­ing US uni­ver­si­ties should have post­ed the re­sults of 450 clin­i­cal tri­als — but over a third (31%) of those re­sults are miss­ing, ac­cord­ing to an analy­sis by Uni­ver­si­ties Al­lied for Es­sen­tial Med­i­cines (UAEM) in part­ner­ship with non-prof­it re­search ad­vo­ca­cy group TranspariMED.

The vi­o­la­tors in­clude some of the most ac­tive tri­al spon­sors: For ex­am­ple the MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter, which has on­ly re­port­ed 77% of due tri­als, Mayo Clin­ic (42%), UC San Fran­cis­co (37%), New York Uni­ver­si­ty (21%), and Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty (17%).

A sum­ma­ry of re­sults by per­cent­age of each uni­ver­si­ty eval­u­at­ed can be seen be­low:

Source: UAEM, TranspariMED

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Over­all, 140 clin­i­cal tri­als are still miss­ing re­sults and five uni­ver­si­ties are re­spon­si­ble for half of the un­re­port­ed tri­als: Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co (17 tri­als with­out re­sults), Co­lum­bia (15 tri­als), Mayo Clin­ic (13), MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter (12) and Chica­go (8), ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

These trans­paren­cy vi­o­la­tions are con­cern­ing con­sid­er­ing at least half of the valu­able med­i­cines that ex­ist to­day were orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped in uni­ver­si­ty labs with tax­pay­er fund­ing, in­clud­ing al­most all vac­cines, many HIV and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis drugs, and even in­sulin, the re­port not­ed. Be­tween 2010 and 2016, every sin­gle one of the 210 FDA-ap­proved med­i­cines can be traced back to fund­ing from the NIH, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the of­fi­cial jour­nal of the Na­tion­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.

Mean­while, these trans­paren­cy trans­gres­sions are echoed in the UK. Reg­u­la­tions in Eu­rope are sim­i­lar. Any tri­al of of any med­i­c­i­nal prod­uct con­duct­ed since 2004 in an EU coun­try has al­ready been re­quired to reg­is­ter on the Eu­ro­pean Union Clin­i­cal Tri­als Reg­is­ter (EU­C­TR) and since 2012, spon­sors must en­sure that all reg­is­tered tri­als since 2004 dis­close their re­sults to the EMA with­in 12 months of tri­al com­ple­tion. But the de­lays to the EMA’s soft­ware plat­form pushed the fi­nal date for re­sults post­ing by spon­sors to late De­cem­ber 2016.

Ben Goldacre

In a BMJ study pub­lished in 2018 — led by Ben Goldacre, a best-sell­ing au­thor, med­ical doc­tor and re­searcher who fo­cus­es on un­pack­ing the mis­use of sci­ence and sta­tis­tics in his books Bad Sci­ence and Bad Phar­ma — it was found that in Eu­rope, of the 7274 tri­als where re­sults were due, 49.5% re­port­ed re­sults. Tri­als with a com­mer­cial spon­sor (such as a drug de­vel­op­er) were sub­stan­tial­ly more like­ly to post re­sults than those with a non-com­mer­cial spon­sor (68.1% v 11.0%), the analy­sis sug­gest­ed.

Out of his labs at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford, Goldacre set up an EU Tri­al­sTrack­er to con­tin­u­ous­ly mon­i­tor the re­port­ing of tri­als. As of 10 Jan­u­ary 2019, Goldacre and his team have iden­ti­fied 8,062 reg­is­tered tri­als that are ‘un­am­bigu­ous­ly’ due to re­port re­sults — but re­sults on just over half  (53.6%) have been post­ed to the reg­istry. The da­ta, which sug­gest­ed that UK uni­ver­si­ties were less re­li­able than drug de­vel­op­ers, sparked the in­ter­est of House of Com­mons Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Com­mit­tee. UK uni­ver­si­ties could be brought in front of the com­mit­tee if they fail to im­prove their track record, and the com­mit­tee will ask them to ex­plain them­selves in a fol­low-up ev­i­dence ses­sion if im­prove­ments are not made.

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Daniel O'Day (AP Images)

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