Clinical trials have become critical to the advancement of medical science and to the evolution of patient care in medicine. The science of clinical research has advanced from early studies in which treatment was assessed without controls to sophisticated multinational collaborative randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trials of therapeutic interventions. To facilitate the advancement of clinical research, clinical trials networks have been developed to conduct multicenter studies. This review describes the history of clinical trials, clinical trials networks, and the goals of such networks in the United States. The Cystic Fibrosis Therapeutics Development Network, a network that represents the paradigm for genetic and orphan diseases, is described in detail. This network has been extremely successful in its first 3.5 years of existence conducting 18 different clinical trials in patients with Cystic Fibrosis. Unique aspects of the network include the use of internet applications for study conduct and communication, the development of statistical methodology to enhance the efficiency of clinical trial design, the development of outcome measures specific to Cystic Fibrosis, and the development of infrastructure necessary for expediting protocol development. In the current environment, clinical research faces significant challenges related to ensuring the safe and ethical conduct of clinical research while promoting fast and efficient clinical trials. To succeed and move forward to provide treatments and find cures for diseases, clinical trials networks must continue to evolve. The Cystic Fibrosis Therapeutics Development Network represents a network that has met this challenge and will continue to provide a venue for the safe and efficient conduct of clinical trials in Cystic Fibrosis.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science B.V.