In order to test a new treatment, in a standard randomised controlled trial, we are ethically assumed to have ‘equipoise’: an honest uncertainty at the same chance of a patient being allocated to the new or old treatment. But, I hear you scoff, how can any investigator put themselves through the hell of ethical administration forms, R&D offices and the potential of an infestation of drug safety investigators without being pretty convinced that the new way is better?
Well, in true evidence-based self-analytical fashion, a highly respected gang of investigators determined to see if equipoise had been met . They undertook a systematic review of cohorts of publicly funded studies (not pharma ones) and assessed if the new treatment was better than the old one or placebo, whichever was the comparator. They found that only slightly less than half the time the new treatment was no better than the comparator, and the new therapy was only very rarely an major advantage.
How can we use this information? Well, I think we can use it every time we face a patient and family with the option to enter a large, non-pharma, RCT. We can honestly say that, looking back, we’re right with the new treatment only half the time and that trials are truly the only accurate way of testing treatments fairly.
New treatments compared to established treatments in randomized trials. Benjamin Djulbegovic et al. Cochrane Library, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.MR000024.pub3