A clinical trial—a critical part of developing a new drug, biologic, or medical device—is a research study conducted in human participants to test a potential treatment for safety, efficacy, dosing, and more. Regulatory authorities use trial data and other information to decide if a new product should be approved for wider use.
Investigational drugs require clinical research before they can be brought to market. Many study drugs don't meet the criteria for approval. But whether or not an investigational treatment is ultimately approved, the clinical trial process helps researchers learn more about a disease and its diagnosis, prevention, and potential treatment.
Clinical trials depend on volunteer participants to help provide the scientific evidence for determining whether an investigational drug is safe and effective. This is especially important with rare diseases, as it can be challenging to find enough patients to gather meaningful data.
Clinical trial participation offers an opportunity to be part of something bigger: research that may advance understanding of a disease or help get a new treatment approved.
Every clinical trial follows a uniquely defined protocol for how the research will be conducted and has specific eligibility criteria for participants—such as age, sex, disease severity, and more.
Talk to your doctor to determine if a particular trial could be a good match for you or a loved one. Once you apply, trial staff use a screening process to determine and finalize participants. Not everyone who applies for a clinical trial will be selected to participate. Each clinical trial has defined inclusion and exclusion criteria within its protocol. Participants must meet these criteria to be eligible for enrollment in the trial. Learn more about how to enroll.
The process of communicating risks and other key information of a clinical trial to ensure that selected participants can make an educated decision about trial participation.
Deciding about a clinical trial can be both exciting and overwhelming. While each trial is different, there are some common elements you can expect:
An investigational treatment may or may not be effective. And in some trials, for comparison purposes, some participants may receive a placebo rather than the investigational treatment for some or all of the study period.
These factors can be frustrating. Even if the trial doesn't improve participant outcomes or the investigational drug isn't ultimately approved, all clinical trial participation may add value to medical knowledge.
Sarepta is grateful to the individuals and families helping us advance our research programs for rare diseases through their participation in a clinical trial. Interested in playing a part?
The clinical trial process typically follows four specific steps, or phases, which help researchers collect different types of information about the drug being studied.
As you review potential trials, you'll see them designated by their phase number. You can enroll in any phase of a trial, with no requirement to participate in previous or subsequent phases. Trial phases are sometimes combined into a single study, so you may see some trials designated by more than one number, such as phase I/II or II/III.
Note that the number of participants is often smaller in clinical trials for drugs that treat rare diseases.
Once you and your doctor have identified an appropriate clinical trial, you may contact the study organizers; contact information will be included with each trial's details. The organizers will set up an appointment to determine whether you or your child meets the eligibility criteria.
Once eligibility is confirmed, you will be provided with an informed consent document, which provides specific information about the trial, including:
The informed consent process exists to help ensure that trial participants can make an educated decision about participation. Before you sign the informed consent document, be sure to discuss anything that's unclear to you with the study organizers and/or your doctor. Remember that the document is not binding, and participants may leave a trial at any time.
Timeframes vary based on the trial. Some are very short, while others continue for years to ensure long-term follow-up. This information is included in the informed consent document provided to prospective participants prior to enrolling in a trial.
Not all studies compensate participants for their time, nor do they reimburse all costs a patient or family may incur as a result of participating in a trial. For information on a specific trial, you should review the informed consent document created for that particular trial, as well as other information provided to you by the clinical trial site or investigator, which will outline the costs, reimbursement, and compensation available for a study.
Each trial is different, and the specific eligibility requirements will dictate whether geography is a factor. As you review potential trials, you'll find information about location. Many trials have study sites across multiple locations and countries.
Most trials require regular medical procedures, medical tests, and sometimes hospitalizations. It may be possible to travel to a non-local study site, but keeping up with trial requirements can be difficult if participants live far away. Your doctor and the study organizers can help determine if a trial's locations and travel requirements are suitable for you or your loved one.
No. Clinical trials provide the basis for the development and approval of new treatments. The safety and/or the effectiveness of the drug is not always fully known at the time of the trial, which is why it's important to study these drugs in specific groups of volunteers. Not all medications are found to be effective and/or safe, and the decision to participate in a clinical trial is a personal one that should be made in partnership with the patient's doctor.
In addition, in some trials some of the participants may get a placebo (a substance that has no active ingredient, such as a sugar pill), which gives researchers something to compare with the study drug. Usually, participants are assigned randomly to the drug or placebo groups, and both before and during the trial neither participants nor researchers know who is getting the drug and who is getting the placebo. This approach is called a "randomized, double-blind study" and is intended to reduce bias and promote objectivity in study results.
Yes. While clinical trials may offer the chance to try an investigational treatment, there are also risks to consider:
During the planning stages of a clinical trial, regulatory authorities work to ensure that proposed trials do not place participants at extreme risk or harm. Nevertheless, anyone considering participating in a trial should carefully discuss potential risks and benefits with their doctor.
Regulatory agencies in different countries—such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the U.S.—are responsible for safeguarding public health by ensuring that current and new medical products are safe and effective. They review data from clinical trials to help make decisions about new drug approvals.
Regulatory authorities also set some standards and structures for the clinical trial process, especially around informing and protecting participants. Study organizers are responsible for designing clinical trials that are thoughtful and ethical, and may seek additional guidance from regulators throughout the trial process.
Before a clinical trial is initiated, its protocol must be reviewed and approved by a group of experts called an Institutional Review Board (IRB), made up of doctors, researchers, and members of the community. At the start and all through the research, the IRB helps ensure that the study is ethical and the rights and welfare of participants are protected.
During a trial, results may be reviewed by an independent team of experts called a Data Monitoring Committee (DMC) or Data Safety and Monitoring Board (DSMB), who check for any concerns related to drug safety. The DMC or DSMB can recommend to regulatory authorities or the researchers that the trial be stopped at any time if the study is not effective, is harming participants, or is unlikely to serve its scientific purpose.
All clinical trials have defined "endpoints"—specific criteria for measuring the benefit of a medicine and evaluating the trial’s results. Typically, researchers use one of two types of endpoints:
When a trial ends, the data collected during the study is analyzed to assess how participants responded to the investigational treatment. Reports are then sent to regulatory authorities to determine appropriate next steps
Access to study treatment after completion of a clinical trial varies. In some cases, trial participants can continue to receive the investigational therapy in an extension of the original trial, or in a separate, long-term trial. However, this is not always the case. Ask about this when considering whether or not to take part in a trial.