A new analysis of data from the ClinicalTrials.gov website shows that despite federal laws requiring the public reporting of results from clinical trials, most research sponsors fail to do so in a timely fashion—or, in many cases, at all. The study, published in the March 12, 2015 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted by researchers at Duke University and supported by the NIH Collaboratory and the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI). The study’s authors examined trial results as reported to ClinicalTrials.gov and evaluated the degree to which research sponsors were complying with a federal law that requires public reporting of findings from clinical trials of medical products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“We thought it would be a great idea to see how compliant investigators are with results reporting, as mandated by law,” said lead author Dr. Monique Anderson, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Duke University.
Using a publicly available database developed and maintained at Duke by CTTI, the authors were able to home in on trials registered with ClinicalTrials.gov that were highly likely to have been conducted within a 5-year study window and to be subject to the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA). This federal law, which was enacted in 2007, includes provisions that obligate sponsors of non-phase 1 clinical trials testing medical products to report study results to ClinicalTrials.gov within 12 months of the trial’s end. It also describes allowable exceptions for failing to meet that timeline.
However, when the authors analyzed the data, they found that relatively few studies overall—just 13 percent—had reported results within the 12-month period prescribed by FDAAA, and less than 40 percent had reported results at any time between the enactment of FDAAA and the 5-year benchmark.
“We were really surprised at how untimely the reporting was—and that more than 66 percent hadn’t reported at all over the 5 years [of the study interval],” said Dr. Anderson, noting that although prior studies have explored the issue of results reporting, they have until now been confined to examinations of reporting rates at 1 year.
Another unexpected result was the finding that industry-sponsored studies were significantly more likely to have reported timely results than were trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or by other academic or government funding sources. The authors noted that despite a seemingly widespread lack of compliance with both legal and ethical imperatives for reporting trial results, there has so far been no penalty for failing to meet reporting obligations, even though FDAAA spells out punishments that include fines of up to $10,000 per day and, in the case of NIH-sponsored trials, loss of future funding.
“Academia needs to be educated on FDAAA, because enforcement will happen at some point. There’s maybe a sense that ‘this law is for industry,’ but it applies to everyone,” said Anderson, who points out that this study is being published just as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH are in the process of crafting new rules that deal specifically with ensuring compliance with federal reporting laws.
According to Anderson, increased awareness of the law, coupled with stepped-up enforcement and infrastructure designed to inform researchers about their reporting obligations, have the potential to improve compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the regulations. “I think reporting rates will skyrocket after the rulemaking,” she says.
In the end, Anderson notes, reporting clinical trials results in order to contribute to scientific and medical knowledge is as much an ethical obligation for researchers as a legal one: “It’s something we really promise to every patient when they enroll on a trial.”
Read the full article here: Anderson ML, Chiswell K, Peterson ED, Tasneem A, Topping J, Califf RM. Compliance with results reporting at ClinicalTrials.gov. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:1031-9. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa1409364.
Additional reading: "Results of many clinical trials not being reported" (NPR) "Clinical trial sponsors fail to publicly disclose report results, research shows" (Forbes.com)