‘A huge amount of wasted effort’: Most COVID-19 studies too small to yield real results

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Credit: Misha Friedman, Getty Images via CNBC

1,200 clinical trials aimed at testing treatment and prevention strategies against Covid-19 [have been designed] since the start of January. But a new STAT analysis shows the effort has been marked by disorder and disorganization, with huge financial resources wasted.

The analysis, conducted in partnership with Applied XL, a Newlab Venture Studio company, found that one in every six trials was designed to study the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, which have been shown to have no benefit in hospitalized patients.

“If the goal was to optimize the likelihood of figuring out the best treatment options, the system is off course,” said Robert Califf, the head of clinical policy and strategy at Verily Life Sciences and Google Health and a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.  The findings show, he said, that too often studies are too small to answer questions, lack real control groups, and put too much emphasis on a few potential treatments, as occurred with hydroxychloroquine.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Embracing biosimilars will drive down prices, increase access to drugs
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Indeed, the analysis found many of the studies are so small — 39% are enrolling or plan to enroll fewer than 100 patients — that they are unlikely to yield clear results. About 38% of the studies have not actually begun enrolling patients.

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“It’s a huge amount of wasted effort and wasted energy when actually a bit of coordination and collaboration could go a long way and answer a few questions,” said [professor of medicine] Martin Landray.

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