Thursday 29 January 2015

Trials Week: Clinical Trials: clearing up some common misconceptions…

As part of our week raising awareness about clinical trials in partnership with CF/Aware, we asked our very own Senior Research Manager, Dr Anoushka de Almeida-Carragher, to look at two of the key myths around trials.

Clinical trials have a profound impact on our lives, and there are a couple of myths associated with them that are worth clearing up.

Myth: “A clinical trial, which has shown a particular drug to be ineffective, is a failure
A completed clinical trial that has shown a particular drug to be ineffective should not necessarily be regarded as “unsuccessful”, and therefore a failure. 

Quite often, the drug just wasn’t effective enough or suitable for the purpose for which it was tried, under the conditions tested, and purely knowing this , is, in itself, very informative. In fact, the drug may actually be beneficial in other ways. A classic example is Viagra, which was initially tested as a treatment for angina but the trial results were disappointing. Pfizer was about to pull the plug on this “unsuccessful” trial, when it was reported that it had a surprising alternative function… Viagra is now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs, globally.

So, if a trial doesn’t show the results we want to see, it doesn’t mean it is a failure. In the world of medical research, acquiring knowledge, even from negative results, is invaluable. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Myth: “A Clinical trial testing a brand new drug is more important than one studying an existing drug.”
Of the two main types of clinical trial, one may test a new drug, while the other might look at a new combination of existing treatments, or test whether administering a known drug in a different way can increase its efficacy and/or reduce its side effects. When it comes to patients signing up for clinical trials, some patients are put off based on the type of trial being carried out. For instance, a clinical trial testing a shiny new drug may seem more appealing, purely for the possibility of a new life-changing intervention, whereas any other type of trial involving existing treatments would not have that air of novelty and anticipation. 

What we must not overlook is that trials of this type are also invaluable, especially those where comparisons are made between existing treatments, like the current TORPEDO trial. This trial compares the administration of two existing treatments of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infection in people with cystic fibrosis, (ie it compares intravenous vs oral antibiotics). This is a good example of a trial which doesn’t involve a brand new drug but which, once completed, will give us the valuable info we need to decide which method of administration works better, and is more beneficial to the CF patient in the long run.

It is vital, therefore, not to discriminate between the different types of trial; all clinical trials, irrespective of the category they fall in to, are equally important.

You can see more about Trials Week by following the hashtag #trialsweek on Twitter.

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