My colleague Trudie Lang is the nearest thing I know to a superhero. Bounding with energy and enthusiasm, which is something of a necessity as she does trials in some of the poorest places around the world and frequently does that research in the eye of the storm of a major disease outbreak. First Ebola and now Zika have taken up most of her time so that if you try to find her in Oxford she probably won’t be there. She is one of the driving forces behind MoreTrials.
The success or not of a trial ultimately depends upon two key groups: The participants who take part and the clinic staff that take care of them, so training these staff well really matters.
This is about trials, I promise, but first, let’s start with the music of David Bowie. One thing that many commentators said following his recent death was that he never followed trends, he created them. Every few years he would unveil his latest creation, sometimes to the horror of his fans, as when he killed off Ziggy Stardust at the height of his fame, but always creating something new. Right until the end, the same artist, but creating new art to surprise us. And that’s what I’ll miss, that in the next couple of years through the banal beats, he won’t suddenly reappear with his latest creation. Now compare Bowie with the Spice Girls. Massively successful yes, a prominent icon of a specific era, but firmly grounded in that time.
One thing that ICH-GCP emphasises is collecting “high-quality” data. It then goes on to spell out the considerable efforts that are required to achieve this focusing on having complete data and having that data verified against the patient’s medical notes. This is usually done by the trial sponsor sending a trained person called a monitor (aka CRA, Clinical Research Associate) to the site, say a hospital, to track down the missing data and to compare the data collected in the trial with the original data recorded in the patient’s notes. These are done every few months so not surprisingly these monitoring visits are a major cost component of the trial along with all of the other checking of data that is involved. Again, it sounds sensible doesn’t it? But, it’s not.