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Publishing interim results of randomised clinical trials in peer-reviewed journals

Counsell, N; Biri, D; Fraczek, J; Hackshaw, A; (2017) Publishing interim results of randomised clinical trials in peer-reviewed journals. Clinical Trials , 14 (1) pp. 67-77. 10.1177/1740774516664689. Green open access

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Abstract

Background: Interim analyses of randomised controlled trials are sometimes published before the final results are available. In several cases, the treatment effects were noticeably different after patient recruitment and follow-up completed. We therefore conducted a literature review of peer-reviewed journals to compare the reported treatment effects between interim and final publications and to examine the magnitude of the difference. Methods: We performed an electronic search of MEDLINE from 1990 to 2014 (keywords: ‘clinical trial’ OR ‘clinical study’ AND ‘random*’ AND ‘interim’ OR ‘preliminary’), and we manually identified the corresponding final publication. Where the electronic search produced a final report in which the abstract cited interim results, we found the interim publication. We also manually searched every randomised controlled trial in eight journals, covering a range of impact factors and general medical and specialist publications (1996–2014). All paired articles were checked to ensure that the same comparison between interventions was available in both. Results: In all, 63 studies are included in our review, and the same quantitative comparison was available in 58 of these. The final treatment effects were smaller than the interim ones in 39 (67%) trials and the same size or larger in 19 (33%). There was a marked reduction, defined as a ≥20% decrease in the size of the treatment effect from interim to final analysis, in 11 (19%) trials compared to a marked increase in 3 (5%), p = 0.057. The magnitude of percentage change was larger in trials where commercial support was reported, and increased as the proportion of final events at the interim report decreased in trials where commercial support was reported (interaction p = 0.023). There was no evidence of a difference between trials that stopped recruitment at the interim analysis where this was reported as being pre-specified versus those that were not pre-specified (interaction p = 0.87). Conclusion: Published interim trial results were more likely to be associated with larger treatment effects than those based on the final report. Publishing interim results should be discouraged, in order to have reliable estimates of treatment effects for clinical decision-making, regulatory authority reviews and health economic analyses. Our work should be expanded to include conference publications and manual searches of additional journal publications.

Type: Article
Title: Publishing interim results of randomised clinical trials in peer-reviewed journals
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/1740774516664689
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1177/1740774516664689
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Randomised controlled trials, treatment effects, interim analysis, final analysis, published results, clinical decision-making
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Cancer Institute
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Cancer Institute > CRUK Cancer Trials Centre
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1545222
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