Mike Clarke: COMET features on International Clinical Trials Day

Mike ClarkeMay 20 2010 was International Clinical Trials Day, a celebration of the clinical trial as a means of improving health and wellbeing. This was the sixth such day and it seeks to raise awareness of the importance of research to health care, and highlights how partnerships between patients and healthcare practitioners are vital to high-quality, relevant research. The Cochrane Collaboration marked the day with a special collection of material, highlighting a number of important initiatives for strengthening the partnerships between patients, practitioners, and researchers in the planning, conduct, and reporting of research. Several relevant Cochrane methodology reviews were made freely available, as well as a series of podcasts. The special collection is still available online, and it contains much of relevance to healthcare practitioners.

Cochrane methodology reviews do for research what the regular Cochrane reviews do for health care. They identify, appraise, summarise, and synthesise empirical evidence about the methods for conducting research in health and social care. The highlighted reviews include two on biases relevant to the publishing of research. One showing how publication bias means that published research typically over estimates the effects of interventions compared to the totality of the evidence, and the second showing how the speed with which results are published is also influenced by the statistical significance of the findings, causing a time-lag bias with the more null or negative results typically appearing a year or more after the positive results. A recently updated Cochrane methodology review assesses the evidence on ways to boost recruitment to randomised trials, highlighting some promising methods. This review is also covered by a podcast, in which the author, Shaun Treweek talks about the review and its findings.

In another of the podcasts, Katherine Cowan, consultant to the James Lind Alliance, describes the recently launched James Lind Alliance Guidebook. This will help people wishing to follow the lead of the alliance in helping patients and healthcare practitioners to come together to identify shared, important uncertainties in health care, which can then be taken to researchers and funders. While, Emile van der Donk from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, describes a European Union initiative to provide a low cost reliable online randomisation and registration service to make it easier for high quality research to be done.

The COMET initiative is also seeking to help improve the quality of research and a podcast from Paula Williamson provides insight into the need for the development of core outcome sets, which could be used across trials and practice. These core outcomes, ideally agreed through collaborations between researchers, patients, practitioners, and other users of research would strengthen the value of the research; and facilitate the work needed to compare, contrast, and combine the findings.

Mike Clarke is Director of the UK Cochrane Centre, which is part of the National Institute for Health Research and the international Cochrane Collaboration. He was worked on several large trials and many systematic reviews. He is one of the founders of the COMET initiative.