Background: Clinical trials that end prematurely (or "terminate") raise financial, ethical, and scientific concerns. The extent to which the results of such trials are disseminated and the reasons for termination have not been well characterized.
Methods and findings: A cross-sectional, descriptive study of terminated clinical trials posted on the ClinicalTrials.gov results database as of February 2013 was conducted. The main outcomes were to characterize the availability of primary outcome data on ClinicalTrials.gov and in the published literature and to identify the reasons for trial termination. Approximately 12% of trials with results posted on the ClinicalTrials.gov results database (905/7,646) were terminated. Most trials were terminated for reasons other than accumulated data from the trial (68%; 619/905), with an insufficient rate of accrual being the lead reason for termination among these trials (57%; 350/619). Of the remaining trials, 21% (193/905) were terminated based on data from the trial (findings of efficacy or toxicity) and 10% (93/905) did not specify a reason. Overall, data for a primary outcome measure were available on ClinicalTrials.gov and in the published literature for 72% (648/905) and 22% (198/905) of trials, respectively. Primary outcome data were reported on the ClinicalTrials.gov results database and in the published literature more frequently (91% and 46%, respectively) when the decision to terminate was based on data from the trial.
Conclusions: Trials terminate for a variety of reasons, not all of which reflect failures in the process or an inability to achieve the intended goals. Primary outcome data were reported most often when termination was based on data from the trial. Further research is needed to identify best practices for disseminating the experience and data resulting from terminated trials in order to help ensure maximal societal benefit from the investments of trial participants and others involved with the study.