Context: Recent reports highlight gaps between guidelines-based treatment recommendations and evidence from clinical trials that supports those recommendations. Strengthened reporting requirements for studies registered with ClinicalTrials.gov enable a comprehensive evaluation of the national trials portfolio.
Objective: To examine fundamental characteristics of interventional clinical trials registered in the ClinicalTrials.gov database.
Methods: A data set comprising 96,346 clinical studies from ClinicalTrials.gov was downloaded on September 27, 2010, and entered into a relational database to analyze aggregate data. Interventional trials were identified and analyses were focused on 3 clinical specialties-cardiovascular, mental health, and oncology-that together encompass the largest number of disability-adjusted life-years lost in the United States.
Main outcome measures: Characteristics of registered clinical trials as reported data elements in the trial registry; how those characteristics have changed over time; differences in characteristics as a function of clinical specialty; and factors associated with use of randomization, blinding, and data monitoring committees (DMCs).
Results: The number of registered interventional clinical trials increased from 28,881 (October 2004-September 2007) to 40,970 (October 2007-September 2010), and the number of missing data elements has generally declined. Most interventional trials registered between 2007 and 2010 were small, with 62% enrolling 100 or fewer participants. Many clinical trials were single-center (66%; 24,788/37,520) and funded by organizations other than industry or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (47%; 17,592/37,520). Heterogeneity in the reported methods by clinical specialty; sponsor type; and the reported use of DMCs, randomization, and blinding was evident. For example, reported use of DMCs was less common in industry-sponsored vs NIH-sponsored trials (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 0.11; 95% CI, 0.09-0.14), earlier-phase vs phase 3 trials (adjusted OR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.76-0.91), and mental health trials vs those in the other 2 specialties. In similar comparisons, randomization and blinding were less frequently reported in earlier-phase, oncology, and device trials.
Conclusion: Clinical trials registered in ClinicalTrials.gov are dominated by small trials and contain significant heterogeneity in methodological approaches, including reported use of randomization, blinding, and DMCs.