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New Zealand: Clinical trials audit finds high reporting rates but slow reporting speeds

An audit of 252 clinical trials funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand found that 89% of completed trials had made their results public in some form, a remarkably high rate.

The median time between trial end and publication of results was 22 months, far slower than the WHO benchmark of 12 months, but faster than what studies looking at trial cohorts in other countries have typically found.

(For comparison, a recent study of small German university trials found that only 71% had published results, and a median reporting speed of 3.4 years.)

The authors of the New Zealand audit found that 91% of trials had been registered. According to the Declaration of Helsinki and the WHO, every trial should be registered without exception, but again, New Zealand seems to perform better than other countries on this metric.

Gaps in reporting on trial registries

However, only one-third of results publications were recorded on trials registers (for example by inserting a hyperlink), and just six trials (2.6%) had posted (summary) results on their register entry.

Interestingly, the team found no significantly difference in the publication timeline between trials with ‘positive’, null and ‘negative’ results.

Further improvements needed

Till Bruckner, founder of TranspariMED, said:

“This audit sets a positive example for other research funders worldwide.”

“This audit gives the Health Research Council of New Zealand a comprehensive overview of its portfolio, and the ability to follow up on unreported trials to ensure that they do not end up as research waste. It also provides assurance to clinical trial participants, patients and taxpayers in New Zealand that the vast majority of publicly funded trials are made public and therefore benefit the public.”

“Going forward, the Health Research Council of New Zealand should follow up on all trials that remain unreported to ensure that they do not end up as research waste, and adopt clear policies requiring all future trial results to be made public within one year on trial registries, as recommended by the WHO.”

“Policy makers in New Zealand should adopt the UK model to ensure that all clinical trials involving New Zealand patients, including industry trials, are registered and rapidly make their results public.”

Previous research not restricted to publicly funded trials has found large transparency gaps in trials conducted in New Zealand.

Which other funders are monitoring trials?

Audits of trial registration and reporting are now being conducted on a regular basis by several major funders including the Norwegian Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Britain’s NIHR and MRC, and the nonprofits Cancer Research UK and PATH.

The world’s largest medical research funder, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, still does not conduct comparable audits. Nor does Gates Foundation, despite having promised to do so in 2017.

The New Zealand audit can be accessed here. The methodology of the study is very strong, including an in-depth publication search and outreach to the principal investigators of all apparently unreported trials. Its scope is extremely impressive: it covers all trials funded 1999-2017.

Sadly, the authors did not make the dataset public, but they have pledged to do so “on reasonable request”.

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