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Researchers, funders, and patients will soon be able to find out which clinical trials are being held in China and India, the World Health Organization announced last week.
Both countries, which are rapidly becoming key players in medical research, have joined the international network of government backed clinical trial registers, coordinated by WHO.
The network aims to boost accountability and transparency for global health research and to improve the quality of data.
Minimum standards of quality are required for entry to the network, said a spokesperson for WHO, adding that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has stipulated the registration of clinical trials before any participants are enrolled.
WHO hopes that this acts as a strong incentive for companies and institutions to register their trials and acquire ethical approval.
Access to the data, which WHO hopes to start publishing within the next few months, will be through a web based search portal that the agency set up in May this year (www.who.int/trialsearch).
The WHO spokesperson said that the move would make it easier to compare research in different countries and to find out who is sponsoring it and what questions are being asked.
WHO's director general, Margaret Chen, said that the addition of the Chinese Clinical Trial Register and the Clinical Trials Registry in India represent a “milestone” in the move towards greater accountability.
“This development will contribute to improve the ethical conduct of, and public trust in, clinical trials,” she added.
Phil Wiffen, associate director of the UK Cochrane Centre, agreed that the move was “a good thing” and would provide “more balance” by including negative and positive trial data.
And it was especially important in China, which is keen to dominate the clinical research market, he said.
But he added, “The logistics will be much more challenging, because the number of doctors in China is scarily large,” he said.
Research conducted in China, which has yet to be published, also shows that many supposedly randomised controlled trials had not, in fact, been randomised, he said.
“Who is going to police and monitor the data?” he asked, adding that the web portal would probably prove more useful for professionals than the public.