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New Zealand cracks down on unreported clinical trials

In a move that will increase pressure on funders in other countries to curb medical research waste, New Zealand’s Health Research Council has committed itself to meeting global best practices in clinical trial transparency.

By becoming the twenty-second signatory to the WHO Joint Statement, New Zealand’s medical research funding agency has pledged to ensure that every clinical trials it funds is pre-registered and rapidly makes its results public, and to monitor its grantees’ compliance with these rules.

New Zealand’s commitment to WHO best practices in clinical trial transparency (see this checklist) will increase pressure on major funding bodies in other countries to also monitor whether universities, hospitals and other grantee institutions running clinical trials are meeting their ethical and scientific obligation to make medical research results public.

Previous research had shown that over half of trials conducted in New Zealand violated medical research ethics, and that 92% of trials were missing results on the regional trial registry.

Around half of all clinical trials worldwide never make their results public, leaving gaps in the medical evidence base that harm patients and undermine public health.

Julie Haggie, CEO of Transparency International New Zealand, said:

“This is a good step towards improving accurate and timely public access to clinical trial information. Unpublished or ‘invisible’ trials can result in harmful drugs and devices being released onto the market, as seen in the case of surgical mesh.”

“Our hope is that this improves decisions around patient care resulting in patients getting more accurate information on the medical procedure, treatment or drug they are being offered.“

Till Bruckner, founder of TranspariMED, said:

“This is fantastic news for patients and taxpayers in New Zealand. By requiring all of its grantees to make their clinical trial results public within 12 months, the Health Research Council will ensure that every publicly funded clinical trial in New Zealand meets WHO transparency standards and makes a contribution to medical progress."

In May 2017, some of the largest medical research funders worldwide came together to sign the WHO Joint Statement. However, momentum has slowed in recent years.

Only three signatories – MRC, NIHR and the Wellcome Trust – appear to have fully delivered on their commitments. All of these are based in the UK. (Recent monitoring reports by the MRC and by Wellcome are available online.)

Some signatories, including the Gates Foundation, the Research Council of Norway, and the Indian Council of Medical Research, appear not to have produced any monitoring reports yet.

New Zealand is the first country since 2017 to sign up to the WHO Joint Statement.

Public funders in other key countries – including Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Canada – have so far not responded to calls for them to sign up.

New Zealand’s move may restore fresh momentum to the WHO initiative.

It is the result of advocacy by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International New Zealand and patient group Mesh Down Under. TranspariMED provided technical assistance to both groups.

Charlotte Korte (@charlottekorte), spokesperson for Mesh Down Under, said:

“The Health Research Council are making a strong commitment to ensure that all requirements are being met for HRC funded clinical trials and New Zealand’s commitment to the WHO Joint Statement is a significant and important step.”

“Many clinical researchers are already following best practice, but this commitment should show up those who are not registering clinical trials or reporting on their clinical trial results publicly and in good time. The HRC signing this statement will be a motivator for researchers to step up their game.”

If you work for a civil society group or medical association and want to advocate for your country’s funder to embrace greater transparency, please get in touch with TranspariMED.

TranspariMED would like to thank Dr Emma Tumilty for sharing her data and insights on clinical trial transparency in New Zealand.

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