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1.  Does clinical equipoise apply to cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:118.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, Weijer and colleagues set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the third of the questions posed, namely, does clinical equipoise apply to CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of beneficence is the moral obligation not to harm needlessly and, when possible, to promote the welfare of research subjects. Two related ethical problems have been discussed in the CRT literature. First, are control groups that receive only usual care unduly disadvantaged? Second, when accumulating data suggests the superiority of one intervention in a trial, is there an ethical obligation to act?
In individually randomized trials involving patients, similar questions are addressed by the concept of clinical equipoise, that is, the ethical requirement that, at the start of a trial, there be a state of honest, professional disagreement in the community of expert practitioners as to the preferred treatment. Since CRTs may not involve physician-researchers and patient-subjects, the applicability of clinical equipoise to CRTs is uncertain. Here we argue that clinical equipoise may be usefully grounded in a trust relationship between the state and research subjects, and, as a result, clinical equipoise is applicable to CRTs. Clinical equipoise is used to argue that control groups receiving only usual care are not disadvantaged so long as the evidence supporting the experimental and control interventions is such that experts would disagree as to which is preferred. Further, while data accumulating during the course of a CRT may favor one intervention over another, clinical equipoise supports continuing the trial until the results are likely to be broadly convincing, often coinciding with the planned completion of the trial. Finally, clinical equipoise provides research ethics committees with formal and procedural guidelines that form an important part of the assessment of the benefits and harms of CRTs in health research.
PMCID: PMC3113987  PMID: 21569349
2.  When is informed consent required in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:202.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the cluster trial is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the second of the questions posed, namely, from whom, when, and how must informed consent be obtained in CRTs in health research? The ethical principle of respect for persons implies that researchers are generally obligated to obtain the informed consent of research subjects. Aspects of CRT design, including cluster randomization, cluster level interventions, and cluster size, present challenges to obtaining informed consent. Here we address five questions related to consent and CRTs: How can a study proceed if informed consent is not possible? Is consent to randomization always required? What information must be disclosed to potential subjects if their cluster has already been randomized? Is passive consent a valid substitute for informed consent? Do health professionals have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in CRTs designed to improve professional practice?
We set out a framework based on the moral foundations of informed consent and international regulatory provisions to address each of these questions. First, when informed consent is not possible, a study may proceed if a research ethics committee is satisfied that conditions for a waiver of consent are satisfied. Second, informed consent to randomization may not be required if it is not possible to approach subjects at the time of randomization. Third, when potential subjects are approached after cluster randomization, they must be provided with a detailed description of the interventions in the trial arm to which their cluster has been randomized; detailed information on interventions in other trial arms need not be provided. Fourth, while passive consent may serve a variety of practical ends, it is not a substitute for valid informed consent. Fifth, while health professionals may have a moral obligation to participate as subjects in research, this does not diminish the necessity of informed consent to study participation.
PMCID: PMC3184061  PMID: 21906277
3.  What is the role and authority of gatekeepers in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2012;13:116.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the sixth of the questions posed, namely, what is the role and authority of gatekeepers in CRTs in health research? ‘Gatekeepers’ are individuals or bodies that represent the interests of cluster members, clusters, or organizations. The need for gatekeepers arose in response to the difficulties in obtaining informed consent because of cluster randomization, cluster-level interventions, and cluster size. In this paper, we call for a more restrictive understanding of the role and authority of gatekeepers.
Previous papers in this series have provided solutions to the challenges posed by informed consent in CRTs without the need to invoke gatekeepers. We considered that consent to randomization is not required when cluster members are approached for consent at the earliest opportunity and before any study interventions or data-collection procedures have started. Further, when cluster-level interventions or cluster size means that obtaining informed consent is not possible, a waiver of consent may be appropriate. In this paper, we suggest that the role of gatekeepers in protecting individual interests in CRTs should be limited. Generally, gatekeepers do not have the authority to provide proxy consent for cluster members. When a municipality or other community has a legitimate political authority that is empowered to make such decisions, cluster permission may be appropriate; however, gatekeepers may usefully protect cluster interests in other ways. Cluster consultation may ensure that the CRT addresses local health needs, and is conducted in accord with local values and customs. Gatekeepers may also play an important role in protecting the interests of organizations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, general practices, and schools. In these settings, permission to access the organization relies on resource implications and adherence to institutional policies.
PMCID: PMC3443001  PMID: 22834691
4.  Who is the research subject in cluster randomized trials in health research? 
Trials  2011;12:183.
This article is part of a series of papers examining ethical issues in cluster randomized trials (CRTs) in health research. In the introductory paper in this series, we set out six areas of inquiry that must be addressed if the CRT is to be set on a firm ethical foundation. This paper addresses the first of the questions posed, namely, who is the research subject in a CRT in health research? The identification of human research subjects is logically prior to the application of protections as set out in research ethics and regulation. Aspects of CRT design, including the fact that in a single study the units of randomization, experimentation, and observation may differ, complicate the identification of human research subjects. But the proper identification of human research subjects is important if they are to be protected from harm and exploitation, and if research ethics committees are to review CRTs efficiently.
We examine the research ethics literature and international regulations to identify the core features of human research subjects, and then unify these features under a single, comprehensive definition of human research subject. We define a human research subject as any person whose interests may be compromised as a result of interventions in a research study. Individuals are only human research subjects in CRTs if: (1) they are directly intervened upon by investigators; (2) they interact with investigators; (3) they are deliberately intervened upon via a manipulation of their environment that may compromise their interests; or (4) their identifiable private information is used to generate data. Individuals who are indirectly affected by CRT study interventions, including patients of healthcare providers participating in knowledge translation CRTs, are not human research subjects unless at least one of these conditions is met.
PMCID: PMC3162904  PMID: 21791064
5.  Researchers’ perceptions of ethical challenges in cluster randomized trials: a qualitative analysis 
Trials  2013;14:1.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) pose ethical challenges for investigators and ethics committees. This study describes the views and experiences of CRT researchers with respect to: (1) ethical challenges in CRTs; (2) the ethics review process for CRTs; and (3) the need for comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
Descriptive qualitative analysis of interviews conducted with a purposive sample of 20 experienced CRT researchers.
Informants expressed concern over the potential for bias that may result from requirements to obtain informed consent from research participants in CRTs. Informants suggested that the need for informed consent ought to be related to the type of intervention under study in a CRT. Informants rarely expressed concern regarding risks to research participants in CRTs, other than risks to privacy. Important issues identified in the research ethics literature, including fair subject selection and other justice issues, were not mentioned by informants. The ethics review process has had positive and negative impacts on CRT conduct. Informants stated that variability in ethics review between jurisdictions, and increasingly stringent ethics review in recent years, have hampered their ability to conduct CRTs. Many informants said that comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs would be helpful to researchers and research ethics committees.
Informants identified key ethical challenges in the conduct of CRTs, specifically relating to identifying subjects, seeking informed consent, and the use of gatekeepers. These data have since been used to identify topics for in-depth ethical analysis and to guide the development of comprehensive ethics guidelines for CRTs.
PMCID: PMC3561139  PMID: 23286245
Cluster randomized trials; Research ethics; Informed consent; Clinical trials; Bioethics; Knowledge translation; Quality improvement; Implementation research
6.  Variability in research ethics review of cluster randomized trials: a scenario-based survey in three countries 
Trials  2014;15:48.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique ethical challenges. In the absence of a uniform standard for their ethical design and conduct, problems such as variability in procedures and requirements by different research ethics committees will persist. We aimed to assess the need for ethics guidelines for CRTs among research ethics chairs internationally, investigate variability in procedures for research ethics review of CRTs within and among countries, and elicit research ethics chairs’ perspectives on specific ethical issues in CRTs, including the identification of research subjects. The proper identification of research subjects is a necessary requirement in the research ethics review process, to help ensure, on the one hand, that subjects are protected from harm and exploitation, and on the other, that reviews of CRTs are completed efficiently.
A web-based survey with closed- and open-ended questions was administered to research ethics chairs in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The survey presented three scenarios of CRTs involving cluster-level, professional-level, and individual-level interventions. For each scenario, a series of questions was posed with respect to the type of review required (full, expedited, or no review) and the identification of research subjects at cluster and individual levels.
A total of 189 (35%) of 542 chairs responded. Overall, 144 (84%, 95% CI 79 to 90%) agreed or strongly agreed that there is a need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and 158 (92%, 95% CI 88 to 96%) agreed or strongly agreed that research ethics committees could be better informed about distinct ethical issues surrounding CRTs. There was considerable variability among research ethics chairs with respect to the type of review required, as well as the identification of research subjects. The cluster-cluster and professional-cluster scenarios produced the most disagreement.
Research ethics committees identified a clear need for ethics guidelines for CRTs and education about distinct ethical issues in CRTs. There is disagreement among committees, even within the same countries, with respect to key questions in the ethics review of CRTs. This disagreement reflects variability of opinion and practices pointing toward possible gaps in knowledge, and supports the need for explicit guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of CRTs.
PMCID: PMC3925119  PMID: 24495542
Cluster randomized trials; Informed consent; Research ethics guidelines; Research ethics review; Web-based survey
7.  Electronic search strategies to identify reports of cluster randomized trials in MEDLINE: low precision will improve with adherence to reporting standards 
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) present unique methodological and ethical challenges. Researchers conducting systematic reviews of CRTs (e.g., addressing methodological or ethical issues) require efficient electronic search strategies (filters or hedges) to identify trials in electronic databases such as MEDLINE. According to the CONSORT statement extension to CRTs, the clustered design should be clearly identified in titles or abstracts; however, variability in terminology may make electronic identification challenging. Our objectives were to (a) evaluate sensitivity ("recall") and precision of a well-known electronic search strategy ("randomized controlled trial" as publication type) with respect to identifying CRTs, (b) evaluate the feasibility of new search strategies targeted specifically at CRTs, and (c) determine whether CRTs are appropriately identified in titles or abstracts of reports and whether there has been improvement over time.
We manually examined a wide range of health journals to identify a gold standard set of CRTs. Search strategies were evaluated against the gold standard set, as well as an independent set of CRTs included in previous systematic reviews.
The existing strategy (randomized controlled is sensitive (93.8%) for identifying CRTs, but has relatively low precision (9%, number needed to read 11); the number needed to read can be halved to 5 (precision 18.4%) by combining with cluster design-related terms using the Boolean operator AND; combining with the Boolean operator OR maximizes sensitivity (99.4%) but would require 28.6 citations read to identify one CRT. Only about 50% of CRTs are clearly identified as cluster randomized in titles or abstracts; approximately 25% can be identified based on the reported units of randomization but are not amenable to electronic searching; the remaining 25% cannot be identified except through manual inspection of the full-text article. The proportion of trials clearly identified has increased from 28% between the years 2000-2003, to 60% between 2004-2007 (absolute increase 32%, 95% CI 17 to 47%).
CRTs should include the phrase "cluster randomized trial" in titles or abstracts; this will facilitate more accurate indexing of the publication type by reviewers at the National Library of Medicine, and efficient textword retrieval of the subset employing cluster randomization.
PMCID: PMC2833170  PMID: 20158899
8.  Ethical and policy issues in cluster randomized trials: rationale and design of a mixed methods research study 
Trials  2009;10:61.
Cluster randomized trials are an increasingly important methodological tool in health research. In cluster randomized trials, intact social units or groups of individuals, such as medical practices, schools, or entire communities – rather than individual themselves – are randomly allocated to intervention or control conditions, while outcomes are then observed on individual cluster members. The substantial methodological differences between cluster randomized trials and conventional randomized trials pose serious challenges to the current conceptual framework for research ethics. The ethical implications of randomizing groups rather than individuals are not addressed in current research ethics guidelines, nor have they even been thoroughly explored. The main objectives of this research are to: (1) identify ethical issues arising in cluster trials and learn how they are currently being addressed; (2) understand how ethics reviews of cluster trials are carried out in different countries (Canada, the USA and the UK); (3) elicit the views and experiences of trial participants and cluster representatives; (4) develop well-grounded guidelines for the ethical conduct and review of cluster trials by conducting an extensive ethical analysis and organizing a consensus process; (5) disseminate the guidelines to researchers, research ethics boards (REBs), journal editors, and research funders.
We will use a mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) approach incorporating both empirical and conceptual work. Empirical work will include a systematic review of a random sample of published trials, a survey and in-depth interviews with trialists, a survey of REBs, and in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with trial participants and gatekeepers. The empirical work will inform the concurrent ethical analysis which will lead to a guidance document laying out principles, policy options, and rationale for proposed guidelines. An Expert Panel of researchers, ethicists, health lawyers, consumer advocates, REB members, and representatives from low-middle income countries will be appointed. A consensus conference will be convened and draft guidelines will be generated by the Panel; an e-consultation phase will then be launched to invite comments from the broader community of researchers, policy-makers, and the public before a final set of guidelines is generated by the Panel and widely disseminated by the research team.
PMCID: PMC2725043  PMID: 19638233
9.  Ethical and regulatory issues of pragmatic cluster randomized trials in contemporary health systems 
Clinical trials (London, England)  2015;12(3):276-286.
Cluster randomized trials (CRTs) randomly assign groups of individuals to examine research questions or test interventions and measure their effects on individuals. Recent emphasis on quality improvement, comparative effectiveness, and learning health systems has prompted expanded use of pragmatic CRTs in routine healthcare settings, which in turn poses practical and ethical challenges that current oversight frameworks may not adequately address. The 2012 Ottawa Statement provides a basis for considering many issues related to pragmatic CRTs but challenges remain, including some arising from the current U.S. research and healthcare regulations. In order to examine the ethical, regulatory, and practical questions facing pragmatic CRTs in healthcare settings, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory convened a workshop in Bethesda, Maryland in July of 2013. Attendees included experts in clinical trials, patient advocacy, research ethics, and research regulations from academia, industry, the NIH, and other federal agencies. Workshop participants identified substantial barriers to implementing these types of CRTs, including issues related to research design, gatekeepers and governance in health systems, consent, institutional review boards, data monitoring, privacy, and special populations. We describe these barriers and suggest means for understanding and overcoming them to facilitate pragmatic CRTs in healthcare settings.
PMCID: PMC4498459  PMID: 25733677
10.  Ethical Issues in HIV Prevention Research with People Who Inject Drugs 
Clinical trials (London, England)  2013;11(2):239-245.
Injection drug use continues to significantly contribute to new infections with HIV. Moreover, conducting HIV prevention research with people who inject drugs (PWIDs) can be complicated for an array of practical, social, legal and ethical reasons. It is critical that these research efforts are sensitive to the particular vulnerabilities associated with injection drug use as well as those related to being at risk for acquiring HIV so as to minimize harm to participants in research.
To describe how we addressed some of these ethical challenges during the course of a large-scale multinational randomized HIV prevention trial involving PWIDs, which was successfully completed.
The ethical issues encountered during the life-cycle of the trial were catalogued by the principal investigator, study coordinator and ethicist working on the trial. Relevant study documents were then reviewed to provide pertinent details. The ethical issues unique to the trial were then described.
Before implementation, the trial faced particularly complex challenges related to the vulnerability of PWIDs where HIV seroincidence rates in the population were high and legal policies and stigma regarding injection drug use was severe. Accordingly, a rapid policy assessment was commissioned and a series of community engagement activities were conducted. During the trial, in addition to using careful standard operating procedures regarding all aspects of trial conduct and extensive staff training, the trial standardized informed consent procedures and assessed them. Further, social harms were monitored along with physical harms and adverse events. Following the decision to close the study, it was critical to develop an orderly and safe process for closing it. The issue of post-trial access to the study medication and a complex intervention also surfaced for consideration.
The issues described in this paper are necessarily limited to how they manifested themselves within the context of a particular trial that was conducted in two countries. In addition, other stakeholders may have divergent views on the ethical issues described and may also have identified additional ethical issues that would warrant examination.
Adopting similar approaches to addressing ethical issues in future research promises to facilitate this work so that needed strategies to prevent HIV infection among PWIDs can be safely and appropriately tested. Future trials enrolling PWID who are at risk of detainment should identify ways of mapping closely their experiences and perceptions in order to better apprehend some of the ethical issues at stake. In addition, scholarly and policy work needs to address the ethical issues related to post-trial access to multi-modal interventions that may be desired by participants, but are not shown to be effective in achieving the primary outcomes of the study.
PMCID: PMC3972281  PMID: 24127238
Research Ethics; Injection Drug Use; HIV Prevention; International
11.  Microbicide research in developing countries: have we given the ethical concerns due consideration? 
BMC Medical Ethics  2007;8:10.
HIV prevention research has been fraught with ethical concerns since its inception. These concerns were highlighted during HIV vaccine research and have been elaborated in microbicide research. A host of unique ethical concerns pervade the microbicide research process from trial design to post-trial microbicide availability. Given the urgency of research and development in the face of the devastating HIV pandemic, these ethical concerns represent an enormous challenge for investigators, sponsors and Research Ethics Committees (RECs) both locally and internationally.
Ethical concerns relating to safety in microbicide research are a major international concern. However, in the urgency to develop a medically efficacious microbicide, some of these concerns may not have been anticipated. In the risk-benefit assessment of research protocols, both medical and psycho-social risk must be considered. In this paper four main areas that have a potential for medical and/or psycho-social harm are examined. Male partner involvement is controversial in the setting of covert use of microbicides. However, given the long-term exposure of men to experimental products, this may be methodologically, ethically and legally important. Covert use of microbicides may impact negatively on relationship dynamics leading to psychosocial harm to varying extents. The unexpectedly high rates of pregnancy during clinical trials raise important methodological and ethical concerns. Enrollment of adolescents without parental consent generates ethical and legal concerns that must be carefully considered by RECs and trial sites. Finally, paradoxical outcomes in recent trials internationally have advanced the debate on the nature of informed consent and responsibility of researchers to participants who become HIV positive during or after trials.
Phase 3 microbicide trials are an undisputed research and ethical priority in developing countries. However, such trials must be conducted with attention to both methodological and ethical detail. It is imperative that guidelines are formulated to ensure that high ethical standards are maintained despite the scientific urgency of microbicide development. Given the controversy raised by emergent ethical issues during the course of microbicide development, it is important that international consensus is reached amongst the various ethics and regulatory agencies in developing and developed countries alike.
PMCID: PMC2082018  PMID: 17877834
12.  Inclusion of Ethical Issues in Dementia Guidelines: A Thematic Text Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001498.
Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) aim to improve professionalism in health care. However, current CPG development manuals fail to address how to include ethical issues in a systematic and transparent manner. The objective of this study was to assess the representation of ethical issues in general CPGs on dementia care.
Methods and Findings
To identify national CPGs on dementia care, five databases of guidelines were searched and national psychiatric associations were contacted in August 2011 and in June 2013. A framework for the assessment of the identified CPGs' ethical content was developed on the basis of a prior systematic review of ethical issues in dementia care. Thematic text analysis and a 4-point rating score were employed to assess how ethical issues were addressed in the identified CPGs. Twelve national CPGs were included. Thirty-one ethical issues in dementia care were identified by the prior systematic review. The proportion of these 31 ethical issues that were explicitly addressed by each CPG ranged from 22% to 77%, with a median of 49.5%. National guidelines differed substantially with respect to (a) which ethical issues were represented, (b) whether ethical recommendations were included, (c) whether justifications or citations were provided to support recommendations, and (d) to what extent the ethical issues were explained.
Ethical issues were inconsistently addressed in national dementia guidelines, with some guidelines including most and some including few ethical issues. Guidelines should address ethical issues and how to deal with them to help the medical profession understand how to approach care of patients with dementia, and for patients, their relatives, and the general public, all of whom might seek information and advice in national guidelines. There is a need for further research to specify how detailed ethical issues and their respective recommendations can and should be addressed in dementia guidelines.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors’ Summary
In the past, doctors tended to rely on their own experience to choose the best treatment for their patients. Faced with a patient with dementia (a brain disorder that affects short-term memory and the ability tocarry out normal daily activities), for example, a doctor would use his/her own experience to help decide whether the patient should remain at home or would be better cared for in a nursing home. Similarly, the doctor might have to decide whether antipsychotic drugs might be necessary to reduce behavioral or psychological symptoms such as restlessness or shouting. However, over the past two decades, numerous evidence-based clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have been produced by governmental bodies and medical associations that aim to improve standards of clinical competence and professionalism in health care. During the development of each guideline, experts search the medical literature for the current evidence about the diagnosis and treatment of a disease, evaluate the quality of that evidence, and then make recommendations based on the best evidence available.
Why Was This Study Done?
Currently, CPG development manuals do not address how to include ethical issues in CPGs. A health-care professional is ethical if he/she behaves in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the medical profession. More specifically, medical professionalism is based on a set of binding ethical principles—respect for patient autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance (the “do no harm” principle), and justice. In particular, CPG development manuals do not address disease-specific ethical issues (DSEIs), clinical ethical situations that are relevant to the management of a specific disease. So, for example, a DSEI that arises in dementia care is the conflict between the ethical principles of non-malfeasance and patient autonomy (freedom-to-move-at-will). Thus, healthcare professionals may have to decide to physically restrain a patient with dementia to prevent the patient doing harm to him- or herself or to someone else. Given the lack of guidance on how to address ethical issues in CPG development manuals, in this thematic text analysis, the researchers assess the representation of ethical issues in CPGs on general dementia care. Thematic text analysis uses a framework for the assessment of qualitative data (information that is word-based rather than number-based) that involves pinpointing, examining, and recording patterns (themes) among the available data.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 12 national CPGs on dementia care by searching guideline databases and by contacting national psychiatric associations. They developed a framework for the assessment of the ethical content in these CPGs based on a previous systematic review of ethical issues in dementia care. Of the 31 DSEIs included by the researchers in their analysis, the proportion that were explicitly addressed by each CPG ranged from 22% (Switzerland) to 77% (USA); on average the CPGs explicitly addressed half of the DSEIs. Four DSEIs—adequate consideration of advanced directives in decision making, usage of GPS and other monitoring techniques, covert medication, and dealing with suicidal thinking—were not addressed in at least 11 of the CPGs. The inclusion of recommendations on how to deal with DSEIs ranged from 10% of DSEIs covered in the Swiss CPG to 71% covered in the US CPG. Overall, national guidelines differed substantially with respect to which ethical issues were included, whether ethical recommendations were included, whether justifications or citations were provided to support recommendations, and to what extent the ethical issues were clearly explained.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that national CPGs on dementia care already address clinical ethical issues but that the extent to which the spectrum of DSEIs is considered varies widely within and between CPGs. They also indicate that recommendations on how to deal with DSEIs often lack the evidence that health-care professionals use to justify their clinical decisions. The researchers suggest that this situation can and should be improved, although more research is needed to determine how ethical issues and recommendations should be addressed in dementia guidelines. A more systematic and transparent inclusion of DSEIs in CPGs for dementia (and for other conditions) would further support the concept of medical professionalism as a core element of CPGs, note the researchers, but is also important for patients and their relatives who might turn to national CPGs for information and guidance at a stressful time of life.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Wikipedia contains a page on clinical practice guidelines (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The US National Guideline Clearinghouse provides information on national guidelines, including CPGs for dementia
The Guidelines International Network promotes the systematic development and application of clinical practice guidelines
The American Medical Association provides information about medical ethics; the British Medical Association provides information on all aspects of ethics and includes an essential tool kit that introduces common ethical problems and practical ways to deal with them
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about dementia, including a personal story about dealing with dementia
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about dementia and about Alzheimers disease, a specific type of dementia (in English and Spanish)
The UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics provides the report Dementia: ethical issues and additional information on the public consultation on ethical issues in dementia care
PMCID: PMC3742442  PMID: 23966839
13.  Internet-Based Device-Assisted Remote Monitoring of Cardiovascular Implantable Electronic Devices 
Executive Summary
The objective of this Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) report was to conduct a systematic review of the available published evidence on the safety, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of Internet-based device-assisted remote monitoring systems (RMSs) for therapeutic cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIEDs) such as pacemakers (PMs), implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices. The MAS evidence-based review was performed to support public financing decisions.
Clinical Need: Condition and Target Population
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a major cause of fatalities in developed countries. In the United States almost half a million people die of SCD annually, resulting in more deaths than stroke, lung cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. In Canada each year more than 40,000 people die from a cardiovascular related cause; approximately half of these deaths are attributable to SCD.
Most cases of SCD occur in the general population typically in those without a known history of heart disease. Most SCDs are caused by cardiac arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm caused by malfunctions of the heart’s electrical system. Up to half of patients with significant heart failure (HF) also have advanced conduction abnormalities.
Cardiac arrhythmias are managed by a variety of drugs, ablative procedures, and therapeutic CIEDs. The range of CIEDs includes pacemakers (PMs), implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices. Bradycardia is the main indication for PMs and individuals at high risk for SCD are often treated by ICDs.
Heart failure (HF) is also a significant health problem and is the most frequent cause of hospitalization in those over 65 years of age. Patients with moderate to severe HF may also have cardiac arrhythmias, although the cause may be related more to heart pump or haemodynamic failure. The presence of HF, however, increases the risk of SCD five-fold, regardless of aetiology. Patients with HF who remain highly symptomatic despite optimal drug therapy are sometimes also treated with CRT devices.
With an increasing prevalence of age-related conditions such as chronic HF and the expanding indications for ICD therapy, the rate of ICD placement has been dramatically increasing. The appropriate indications for ICD placement, as well as the rate of ICD placement, are increasingly an issue. In the United States, after the introduction of expanded coverage of ICDs, a national ICD registry was created in 2005 to track these devices. A recent survey based on this national ICD registry reported that 22.5% (25,145) of patients had received a non-evidence based ICD and that these patients experienced significantly higher in-hospital mortality and post-procedural complications.
In addition to the increased ICD device placement and the upfront device costs, there is the need for lifelong follow-up or surveillance, placing a significant burden on patients and device clinics. In 2007, over 1.6 million CIEDs were implanted in Europe and the United States, which translates to over 5.5 million patient encounters per year if the recommended follow-up practices are considered. A safe and effective RMS could potentially improve the efficiency of long-term follow-up of patients and their CIEDs.
In addition to being therapeutic devices, CIEDs have extensive diagnostic abilities. All CIEDs can be interrogated and reprogrammed during an in-clinic visit using an inductive programming wand. Remote monitoring would allow patients to transmit information recorded in their devices from the comfort of their own homes. Currently most ICD devices also have the potential to be remotely monitored. Remote monitoring (RM) can be used to check system integrity, to alert on arrhythmic episodes, and to potentially replace in-clinic follow-ups and manage disease remotely. They do not currently have the capability of being reprogrammed remotely, although this feature is being tested in pilot settings.
Every RMS is specifically designed by a manufacturer for their cardiac implant devices. For Internet-based device-assisted RMSs, this customization includes details such as web application, multiplatform sensors, custom algorithms, programming information, and types and methods of alerting patients and/or physicians. The addition of peripherals for monitoring weight and pressure or communicating with patients through the onsite communicators also varies by manufacturer. Internet-based device-assisted RMSs for CIEDs are intended to function as a surveillance system rather than an emergency system.
Health care providers therefore need to learn each application, and as more than one application may be used at one site, multiple applications may need to be reviewed for alarms. All RMSs deliver system integrity alerting; however, some systems seem to be better geared to fast arrhythmic alerting, whereas other systems appear to be more intended for remote follow-up or supplemental remote disease management. The different RMSs may therefore have different impacts on workflow organization because of their varying frequency of interrogation and methods of alerts. The integration of these proprietary RM web-based registry systems with hospital-based electronic health record systems has so far not been commonly implemented.
Currently there are 2 general types of RMSs: those that transmit device diagnostic information automatically and without patient assistance to secure Internet-based registry systems, and those that require patient assistance to transmit information. Both systems employ the use of preprogrammed alerts that are either transmitted automatically or at regular scheduled intervals to patients and/or physicians.
The current web applications, programming, and registry systems differ greatly between the manufacturers of transmitting cardiac devices. In Canada there are currently 4 manufacturers—Medtronic Inc., Biotronik, Boston Scientific Corp., and St Jude Medical Inc.—which have regulatory approval for remote transmitting CIEDs. Remote monitoring systems are proprietary to the manufacturer of the implant device. An RMS for one device will not work with another device, and the RMS may not work with all versions of the manufacturer’s devices.
All Internet-based device-assisted RMSs have common components. The implanted device is equipped with a micro-antenna that communicates with a small external device (at bedside or wearable) commonly known as the transmitter. Transmitters are able to interrogate programmed parameters and diagnostic data stored in the patients’ implant device. The information transfer to the communicator can occur at preset time intervals with the participation of the patient (waving a wand over the device) or it can be sent automatically (wirelessly) without their participation. The encrypted data are then uploaded to an Internet-based database on a secure central server. The data processing facilities at the central database, depending on the clinical urgency, can trigger an alert for the physician(s) that can be sent via email, fax, text message, or phone. The details are also posted on the secure website for viewing by the physician (or their delegate) at their convenience.
Research Questions
The research directions and specific research questions for this evidence review were as follows:
To identify the Internet-based device-assisted RMSs available for follow-up of patients with therapeutic CIEDs such as PMs, ICDs, and CRT devices.
To identify the potential risks, operational issues, or organizational issues related to Internet-based device-assisted RM for CIEDs.
To evaluate the safety, acceptability, and effectiveness of Internet-based device-assisted RMSs for CIEDs such as PMs, ICDs, and CRT devices.
To evaluate the safety, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of Internet-based device-assisted RMSs for CIEDs compared to usual outpatient in-office monitoring strategies.
To evaluate the resource implications or budget impact of RMSs for CIEDs in Ontario, Canada.
Research Methods
Literature Search
The review included a systematic review of published scientific literature and consultations with experts and manufacturers of all 4 approved RMSs for CIEDs in Canada. Information on CIED cardiac implant clinics was also obtained from Provincial Programs, a division within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care with a mandate for cardiac implant specialty care. Various administrative databases and registries were used to outline the current clinical follow-up burden of CIEDs in Ontario. The provincial population-based ICD database developed and maintained by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) was used to review the current follow-up practices with Ontario patients implanted with ICD devices.
Search Strategy
A literature search was performed on September 21, 2010 using OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Cochrane Library, and the International Agency for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) for studies published from 1950 to September 2010. Search alerts were generated and reviewed for additional relevant literature until December 31, 2010. Abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria full-text articles were obtained. Reference lists were also examined for any additional relevant studies not identified through the search.
Inclusion Criteria
published between 1950 and September 2010;
English language full-reports and human studies;
original reports including clinical evaluations of Internet-based device-assisted RMSs for CIEDs in clinical settings;
reports including standardized measurements on outcome events such as technical success, safety, effectiveness, cost, measures of health care utilization, morbidity, mortality, quality of life or patient satisfaction;
randomized controlled trials (RCTs), systematic reviews and meta-analyses, cohort and controlled clinical studies.
Exclusion Criteria
non-systematic reviews, letters, comments and editorials;
reports not involving standardized outcome events;
clinical reports not involving Internet-based device assisted RM systems for CIEDs in clinical settings;
reports involving studies testing or validating algorithms without RM;
studies with small samples (<10 subjects).
Outcomes of Interest
The outcomes of interest included: technical outcomes, emergency department visits, complications, major adverse events, symptoms, hospital admissions, clinic visits (scheduled and/or unscheduled), survival, morbidity (disease progression, stroke, etc.), patient satisfaction, and quality of life.
Summary of Findings
The MAS evidence review was performed to review available evidence on Internet-based device-assisted RMSs for CIEDs published until September 2010. The search identified 6 systematic reviews, 7 randomized controlled trials, and 19 reports for 16 cohort studies—3 of these being registry-based and 4 being multi-centered. The evidence is summarized in the 3 sections that follow.
1. Effectiveness of Remote Monitoring Systems of CIEDs for Cardiac Arrhythmia and Device Functioning
In total, 15 reports on 13 cohort studies involving investigations with 4 different RMSs for CIEDs in cardiology implant clinic groups were identified in the review. The 4 RMSs were: Care Link Network® (Medtronic Inc,, Minneapolis, MN, USA); Home Monitoring® (Biotronic, Berlin, Germany); House Call 11® (St Jude Medical Inc., St Pauls, MN, USA); and a manufacturer-independent RMS. Eight of these reports were with the Home Monitoring® RMS (12,949 patients), 3 were with the Care Link® RMS (167 patients), 1 was with the House Call 11® RMS (124 patients), and 1 was with a manufacturer-independent RMS (44 patients). All of the studies, except for 2 in the United States, (1 with Home Monitoring® and 1 with House Call 11®), were performed in European countries.
The RMSs in the studies were evaluated with different cardiac implant device populations: ICDs only (6 studies), ICD and CRT devices (3 studies), PM and ICD and CRT devices (4 studies), and PMs only (2 studies). The patient populations were predominately male (range, 52%–87%) in all studies, with mean ages ranging from 58 to 76 years. One study population was unique in that RMSs were evaluated for ICDs implanted solely for primary prevention in young patients (mean age, 44 years) with Brugada syndrome, which carries an inherited increased genetic risk for sudden heart attack in young adults.
Most of the cohort studies reported on the feasibility of RMSs in clinical settings with limited follow-up. In the short follow-up periods of the studies, the majority of the events were related to detection of medical events rather than system configuration or device abnormalities. The results of the studies are summarized below:
The interrogation of devices on the web platform, both for continuous and scheduled transmissions, was significantly quicker with remote follow-up, both for nurses and physicians.
In a case-control study focusing on a Brugada population–based registry with patients followed-up remotely, there were significantly fewer outpatient visits and greater detection of inappropriate shocks. One death occurred in the control group not followed remotely and post-mortem analysis indicated early signs of lead failure prior to the event.
Two studies examined the role of RMSs in following ICD leads under regulatory advisory in a European clinical setting and noted:
– Fewer inappropriate shocks were administered in the RM group.
– Urgent in-office interrogations and surgical revisions were performed within 12 days of remote alerts.
– No signs of lead fracture were detected at in-office follow-up; all were detected at remote follow-up.
Only 1 study reported evaluating quality of life in patients followed up remotely at 3 and 6 months; no values were reported.
Patient satisfaction was evaluated in 5 cohort studies, all in short term follow-up: 1 for the Home Monitoring® RMS, 3 for the Care Link® RMS, and 1 for the House Call 11® RMS.
– Patients reported receiving a sense of security from the transmitter, a good relationship with nurses and physicians, positive implications for their health, and satisfaction with RM and organization of services.
– Although patients reported that the system was easy to implement and required less than 10 minutes to transmit information, a variable proportion of patients (range, 9% 39%) reported that they needed the assistance of a caregiver for their transmission.
– The majority of patients would recommend RM to other ICD patients.
– Patients with hearing or other physical or mental conditions hindering the use of the system were excluded from studies, but the frequency of this was not reported.
Physician satisfaction was evaluated in 3 studies, all with the Care Link® RMS:
– Physicians reported an ease of use and high satisfaction with a generally short-term use of the RMS.
– Physicians reported being able to address the problems in unscheduled patient transmissions or physician initiated transmissions remotely, and were able to handle the majority of the troubleshooting calls remotely.
– Both nurses and physicians reported a high level of satisfaction with the web registry system.
2. Effectiveness of Remote Monitoring Systems in Heart Failure Patients for Cardiac Arrhythmia and Heart Failure Episodes
Remote follow-up of HF patients implanted with ICD or CRT devices, generally managed in specialized HF clinics, was evaluated in 3 cohort studies: 1 involved the Home Monitoring® RMS and 2 involved the Care Link® RMS. In these RMSs, in addition to the standard diagnostic features, the cardiac devices continuously assess other variables such as patient activity, mean heart rate, and heart rate variability. Intra-thoracic impedance, a proxy measure for lung fluid overload, was also measured in the Care Link® studies. The overall diagnostic performance of these measures cannot be evaluated, as the information was not reported for patients who did not experience intra-thoracic impedance threshold crossings or did not undergo interventions. The trial results involved descriptive information on transmissions and alerts in patients experiencing high morbidity and hospitalization in the short study periods.
3. Comparative Effectiveness of Remote Monitoring Systems for CIEDs
Seven RCTs were identified evaluating RMSs for CIEDs: 2 were for PMs (1276 patients) and 5 were for ICD/CRT devices (3733 patients). Studies performed in the clinical setting in the United States involved both the Care Link® RMS and the Home Monitoring® RMS, whereas all studies performed in European countries involved only the Home Monitoring® RMS.
3A. Randomized Controlled Trials of Remote Monitoring Systems for Pacemakers
Two trials, both multicenter RCTs, were conducted in different countries with different RMSs and study objectives. The PREFER trial was a large trial (897 patients) performed in the United States examining the ability of Care Link®, an Internet-based remote PM interrogation system, to detect clinically actionable events (CAEs) sooner than the current in-office follow-up supplemented with transtelephonic monitoring transmissions, a limited form of remote device interrogation. The trial results are summarized below:
In the 375-day mean follow-up, 382 patients were identified with at least 1 CAE—111 patients in the control arm and 271 in the remote arm.
The event rate detected per patient for every type of CAE, except for loss of atrial capture, was higher in the remote arm than the control arm.
The median time to first detection of CAEs (4.9 vs. 6.3 months) was significantly shorter in the RMS group compared to the control group (P < 0.0001).
Additionally, only 2% (3/190) of the CAEs in the control arm were detected during a transtelephonic monitoring transmission (the rest were detected at in-office follow-ups), whereas 66% (446/676) of the CAEs were detected during remote interrogation.
The second study, the OEDIPE trial, was a smaller trial (379 patients) performed in France evaluating the ability of the Home Monitoring® RMS to shorten PM post-operative hospitalization while preserving the safety of conventional management of longer hospital stays.
Implementation and operationalization of the RMS was reported to be successful in 91% (346/379) of the patients and represented 8144 transmissions.
In the RM group 6.5% of patients failed to send messages (10 due to improper use of the transmitter, 2 with unmanageable stress). Of the 172 patients transmitting, 108 patients sent a total of 167 warnings during the trial, with a greater proportion of warnings being attributed to medical rather than technical causes.
Forty percent had no warning message transmission and among these, 6 patients experienced a major adverse event and 1 patient experienced a non-major adverse event. Of the 6 patients having a major adverse event, 5 contacted their physician.
The mean medical reaction time was faster in the RM group (6.5 ± 7.6 days vs. 11.4 ± 11.6 days).
The mean duration of hospitalization was significantly shorter (P < 0.001) for the RM group than the control group (3.2 ± 3.2 days vs. 4.8 ± 3.7 days).
Quality of life estimates by the SF-36 questionnaire were similar for the 2 groups at 1-month follow-up.
3B. Randomized Controlled Trials Evaluating Remote Monitoring Systems for ICD or CRT Devices
The 5 studies evaluating the impact of RMSs with ICD/CRT devices were conducted in the United States and in European countries and involved 2 RMSs—Care Link® and Home Monitoring ®. The objectives of the trials varied and 3 of the trials were smaller pilot investigations.
The first of the smaller studies (151 patients) evaluated patient satisfaction, achievement of patient outcomes, and the cost-effectiveness of the Care Link® RMS compared to quarterly in-office device interrogations with 1-year follow-up.
Individual outcomes such as hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and unscheduled clinic visits were not significantly different between the study groups.
Except for a significantly higher detection of atrial fibrillation in the RM group, data on ICD detection and therapy were similar in the study groups.
Health-related quality of life evaluated by the EuroQoL at 6-month or 12-month follow-up was not different between study groups.
Patients were more satisfied with their ICD care in the clinic follow-up group than in the remote follow-up group at 6-month follow-up, but were equally satisfied at 12- month follow-up.
The second small pilot trial (20 patients) examined the impact of RM follow-up with the House Call 11® system on work schedules and cost savings in patients randomized to 2 study arms varying in the degree of remote follow-up.
The total time including device interrogation, transmission time, data analysis, and physician time required was significantly shorter for the RM follow-up group.
The in-clinic waiting time was eliminated for patients in the RM follow-up group.
The physician talk time was significantly reduced in the RM follow-up group (P < 0.05).
The time for the actual device interrogation did not differ in the study groups.
The third small trial (115 patients) examined the impact of RM with the Home Monitoring® system compared to scheduled trimonthly in-clinic visits on the number of unplanned visits, total costs, health-related quality of life (SF-36), and overall mortality.
There was a 63.2% reduction in in-office visits in the RM group.
Hospitalizations or overall mortality (values not stated) were not significantly different between the study groups.
Patient-induced visits were higher in the RM group than the in-clinic follow-up group.
The TRUST Trial
The TRUST trial was a large multicenter RCT conducted at 102 centers in the United States involving the Home Monitoring® RMS for ICD devices for 1450 patients. The primary objectives of the trial were to determine if remote follow-up could be safely substituted for in-office clinic follow-up (3 in-office visits replaced) and still enable earlier physician detection of clinically actionable events.
Adherence to the protocol follow-up schedule was significantly higher in the RM group than the in-office follow-up group (93.5% vs. 88.7%, P < 0.001).
Actionability of trimonthly scheduled checks was low (6.6%) in both study groups. Overall, actionable causes were reprogramming (76.2%), medication changes (24.8%), and lead/system revisions (4%), and these were not different between the 2 study groups.
The overall mean number of in-clinic and hospital visits was significantly lower in the RM group than the in-office follow-up group (2.1 per patient-year vs. 3.8 per patient-year, P < 0.001), representing a 45% visit reduction at 12 months.
The median time from onset of first arrhythmia to physician evaluation was significantly shorter (P < 0.001) in the RM group than in the in-office follow-up group for all arrhythmias (1 day vs. 35.5 days).
The median time to detect clinically asymptomatic arrhythmia events—atrial fibrillation (AF), ventricular fibrillation (VF), ventricular tachycardia (VT), and supra-ventricular tachycardia (SVT)—was also significantly shorter (P < 0.001) in the RM group compared to the in-office follow-up group (1 day vs. 41.5 days) and was significantly quicker for each of the clinical arrhythmia events—AF (5.5 days vs. 40 days), VT (1 day vs. 28 days), VF (1 day vs. 36 days), and SVT (2 days vs. 39 days).
System-related problems occurred infrequently in both groups—in 1.5% of patients (14/908) in the RM group and in 0.7% of patients (3/432) in the in-office follow-up group.
The overall adverse event rate over 12 months was not significantly different between the 2 groups and individual adverse events were also not significantly different between the RM group and the in-office follow-up group: death (3.4% vs. 4.9%), stroke (0.3% vs. 1.2%), and surgical intervention (6.6% vs. 4.9%), respectively.
The 12-month cumulative survival was 96.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 95.5%–97.6%) in the RM group and 94.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 91.8%–96.6%) in the in-office follow-up group, and was not significantly different between the 2 groups (P = 0.174).
The CONNECT trial, another major multicenter RCT, involved the Care Link® RMS for ICD/CRT devices in a15-month follow-up study of 1,997 patients at 133 sites in the United States. The primary objective of the trial was to determine whether automatically transmitted physician alerts decreased the time from the occurrence of clinically relevant events to medical decisions. The trial results are summarized below:
Of the 575 clinical alerts sent in the study, 246 did not trigger an automatic physician alert. Transmission failures were related to technical issues such as the alert not being programmed or not being reset, and/or a variety of patient factors such as not being at home and the monitor not being plugged in or set up.
The overall mean time from the clinically relevant event to the clinical decision was significantly shorter (P < 0.001) by 17.4 days in the remote follow-up group (4.6 days for 172 patients) than the in-office follow-up group (22 days for 145 patients).
– The median time to a clinical decision was shorter in the remote follow-up group than in the in-office follow-up group for an AT/AF burden greater than or equal to 12 hours (3 days vs. 24 days) and a fast VF rate greater than or equal to 120 beats per minute (4 days vs. 23 days).
Although infrequent, similar low numbers of events involving low battery and VF detection/therapy turned off were noted in both groups. More alerts, however, were noted for out-of-range lead impedance in the RM group (18 vs. 6 patients), and the time to detect these critical events was significantly shorter in the RM group (same day vs. 17 days).
Total in-office clinic visits were reduced by 38% from 6.27 visits per patient-year in the in-office follow-up group to 3.29 visits per patient-year in the remote follow-up group.
Health care utilization visits (N = 6,227) that included cardiovascular-related hospitalization, emergency department visits, and unscheduled clinic visits were not significantly higher in the remote follow-up group.
The overall mean length of hospitalization was significantly shorter (P = 0.002) for those in the remote follow-up group (3.3 days vs. 4.0 days) and was shorter both for patients with ICD (3.0 days vs. 3.6 days) and CRT (3.8 days vs. 4.7 days) implants.
The mortality rate between the study arms was not significantly different between the follow-up groups for the ICDs (P = 0.31) or the CRT devices with defribillator (P = 0.46).
There is limited clinical trial information on the effectiveness of RMSs for PMs. However, for RMSs for ICD devices, multiple cohort studies and 2 large multicenter RCTs demonstrated feasibility and significant reductions in in-office clinic follow-ups with RMSs in the first year post implantation. The detection rates of clinically significant events (and asymptomatic events) were higher, and the time to a clinical decision for these events was significantly shorter, in the remote follow-up groups than in the in-office follow-up groups. The earlier detection of clinical events in the remote follow-up groups, however, was not associated with lower morbidity or mortality rates in the 1-year follow-up. The substitution of almost all the first year in-office clinic follow-ups with RM was also not associated with an increased health care utilization such as emergency department visits or hospitalizations.
The follow-up in the trials was generally short-term, up to 1 year, and was a more limited assessment of potential longer term device/lead integrity complications or issues. None of the studies compared the different RMSs, particularly the different RMSs involving patient-scheduled transmissions or automatic transmissions. Patients’ acceptance of and satisfaction with RM were reported to be high, but the impact of RM on patients’ health-related quality of life, particularly the psychological aspects, was not evaluated thoroughly. Patients who are not technologically competent, having hearing or other physical/mental impairments, were identified as potentially disadvantaged with remote surveillance. Cohort studies consistently identified subgroups of patients who preferred in-office follow-up. The evaluation of costs and workflow impact to the health care system were evaluated in European or American clinical settings, and only in a limited way.
Internet-based device-assisted RMSs involve a new approach to monitoring patients, their disease progression, and their CIEDs. Remote monitoring also has the potential to improve the current postmarket surveillance systems of evolving CIEDs and their ongoing hardware and software modifications. At this point, however, there is insufficient information to evaluate the overall impact to the health care system, although the time saving and convenience to patients and physicians associated with a substitution of in-office follow-up by RM is more certain. The broader issues surrounding infrastructure, impacts on existing clinical care systems, and regulatory concerns need to be considered for the implementation of Internet-based RMSs in jurisdictions involving different clinical practices.
PMCID: PMC3377571  PMID: 23074419
14.  Experimental Treatment with Favipiravir for Ebola Virus Disease (the JIKI Trial): A Historically Controlled, Single-Arm Proof-of-Concept Trial in Guinea 
Sissoko, Daouda | Laouenan, Cedric | Folkesson, Elin | M’Lebing, Abdoul-Bing | Beavogui, Abdoul-Habib | Baize, Sylvain | Camara, Alseny-Modet | Maes, Piet | Shepherd, Susan | Danel, Christine | Carazo, Sara | Conde, Mamoudou N. | Gala, Jean-Luc | Colin, Géraldine | Savini, Hélène | Bore, Joseph Akoi | Le Marcis, Frederic | Koundouno, Fara Raymond | Petitjean, Frédéric | Lamah, Marie-Claire | Diederich, Sandra | Tounkara, Alexis | Poelart, Geertrui | Berbain, Emmanuel | Dindart, Jean-Michel | Duraffour, Sophie | Lefevre, Annabelle | Leno, Tamba | Peyrouset, Olivier | Irenge, Léonid | Bangoura, N’Famara | Palich, Romain | Hinzmann, Julia | Kraus, Annette | Barry, Thierno Sadou | Berette, Sakoba | Bongono, André | Camara, Mohamed Seto | Chanfreau Munoz, Valérie | Doumbouya, Lanciné | Souley Harouna,  | Kighoma, Patient Mumbere | Koundouno, Fara Roger | Réné Lolamou,  | Loua, Cécé Moriba | Massala, Vincent | Moumouni, Kinda | Provost, Célia | Samake, Nenefing | Sekou, Conde | Soumah, Abdoulaye | Arnould, Isabelle | Komano, Michel Saa | Gustin, Lina | Berutto, Carlotta | Camara, Diarra | Camara, Fodé Saydou | Colpaert, Joliene | Delamou, Léontine | Jansson, Lena | Kourouma, Etienne | Loua, Maurice | Malme, Kristian | Manfrin, Emma | Maomou, André | Milinouno, Adele | Ombelet, Sien | Sidiboun, Aboubacar Youla | Verreckt, Isabelle | Yombouno, Pauline | Bocquin, Anne | Carbonnelle, Caroline | Carmoi, Thierry | Frange, Pierre | Mely, Stéphane | Nguyen, Vinh-Kim | Pannetier, Delphine | Taburet, Anne-Marie | Treluyer, Jean-Marc | Kolie, Jacques | Moh, Raoul | Gonzalez, Minerva Cervantes | Kuisma, Eeva | Liedigk, Britta | Ngabo, Didier | Rudolf, Martin | Thom, Ruth | Kerber, Romy | Gabriel, Martin | Di Caro, Antonino | Wölfel, Roman | Badir, Jamal | Bentahir, Mostafa | Deccache, Yann | Dumont, Catherine | Durant, Jean-François | El Bakkouri, Karim | Gasasira Uwamahoro, Marie | Smits, Benjamin | Toufik, Nora | Van Cauwenberghe, Stéphane | Ezzedine, Khaled | Dortenzio, Eric | Pizarro, Louis | Etienne, Aurélie | Guedj, Jérémie | Fizet, Alexandra | Barte de Sainte Fare, Eric | Murgue, Bernadette | Tran-Minh, Tuan | Rapp, Christophe | Piguet, Pascal | Poncin, Marc | Draguez, Bertrand | Allaford Duverger, Thierry | Barbe, Solenne | Baret, Guillaume | Defourny, Isabelle | Carroll, Miles | Raoul, Hervé | Augier, Augustin | Eholie, Serge P. | Yazdanpanah, Yazdan | Levy-Marchal, Claire | Antierrens, Annick | Van Herp, Michel | Günther, Stephan | de Lamballerie, Xavier | Keïta, Sakoba | Mentre, France | Anglaret, Xavier | Malvy, Denis
PLoS Medicine  2016;13(3):e1001967.
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a highly lethal condition for which no specific treatment has proven efficacy. In September 2014, while the Ebola outbreak was at its peak, the World Health Organization released a short list of drugs suitable for EVD research. Favipiravir, an antiviral developed for the treatment of severe influenza, was one of these. In late 2014, the conditions for starting a randomized Ebola trial were not fulfilled for two reasons. One was the perception that, given the high number of patients presenting simultaneously and the very high mortality rate of the disease, it was ethically unacceptable to allocate patients from within the same family or village to receive or not receive an experimental drug, using a randomization process impossible to understand by very sick patients. The other was that, in the context of rumors and distrust of Ebola treatment centers, using a randomized design at the outset might lead even more patients to refuse to seek care.
Therefore, we chose to conduct a multicenter non-randomized trial, in which all patients would receive favipiravir along with standardized care. The objectives of the trial were to test the feasibility and acceptability of an emergency trial in the context of a large Ebola outbreak, and to collect data on the safety and effectiveness of favipiravir in reducing mortality and viral load in patients with EVD. The trial was not aimed at directly informing future guidelines on Ebola treatment but at quickly gathering standardized preliminary data to optimize the design of future studies.
Methods and Findings
Inclusion criteria were positive Ebola virus reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) test, age ≥ 1 y, weight ≥ 10 kg, ability to take oral drugs, and informed consent. All participants received oral favipiravir (day 0: 6,000 mg; day 1 to day 9: 2,400 mg/d). Semi-quantitative Ebola virus RT-PCR (results expressed in “cycle threshold” [Ct]) and biochemistry tests were performed at day 0, day 2, day 4, end of symptoms, day 14, and day 30. Frozen samples were shipped to a reference biosafety level 4 laboratory for RNA viral load measurement using a quantitative reference technique (genome copies/milliliter). Outcomes were mortality, viral load evolution, and adverse events. The analysis was stratified by age and Ct value. A “target value” of mortality was defined a priori for each stratum, to guide the interpretation of interim and final analysis.
Between 17 December 2014 and 8 April 2015, 126 patients were included, of whom 111 were analyzed (adults and adolescents, ≥13 y, n = 99; young children, ≤6 y, n = 12). Here we present the results obtained in the 99 adults and adolescents. Of these, 55 had a baseline Ct value ≥ 20 (Group A Ct ≥ 20), and 44 had a baseline Ct value < 20 (Group A Ct < 20). Ct values and RNA viral loads were well correlated, with Ct = 20 corresponding to RNA viral load = 7.7 log10 genome copies/ml. Mortality was 20% (95% CI 11.6%–32.4%) in Group A Ct ≥ 20 and 91% (95% CI 78.8%–91.1%) in Group A Ct < 20. Both mortality 95% CIs included the predefined target value (30% and 85%, respectively). Baseline serum creatinine was ≥110 μmol/l in 48% of patients in Group A Ct ≥ 20 (≥300 μmol/l in 14%) and in 90% of patients in Group A Ct < 20 (≥300 μmol/l in 44%). In Group A Ct ≥ 20, 17% of patients with baseline creatinine ≥110 μmol/l died, versus 97% in Group A Ct < 20. In patients who survived, the mean decrease in viral load was 0.33 log10 copies/ml per day of follow-up. RNA viral load values and mortality were not significantly different between adults starting favipiravir within <72 h of symptoms compared to others. Favipiravir was well tolerated.
In the context of an outbreak at its peak, with crowded care centers, randomizing patients to receive either standard care or standard care plus an experimental drug was not felt to be appropriate. We did a non-randomized trial. This trial reaches nuanced conclusions. On the one hand, we do not conclude on the efficacy of the drug, and our conclusions on tolerance, although encouraging, are not as firm as they could have been if we had used randomization. On the other hand, we learned about how to quickly set up and run an Ebola trial, in close relationship with the community and non-governmental organizations; we integrated research into care so that it improved care; and we generated knowledge on EVD that is useful to further research. Our data illustrate the frequency of renal dysfunction and the powerful prognostic value of low Ct values. They suggest that drug trials in EVD should systematically stratify analyses by baseline Ct value, as a surrogate of viral load. They also suggest that favipiravir monotherapy merits further study in patients with medium to high viremia, but not in those with very high viremia.
Trial registration NCT02329054
In the context the recent Ebola outbreak, Xavier Anglaret and colleagues test an experimental treatment, favipiravir, for Ebola virus disease in a multicenter non-randomized trial.
Editors' Summary
In 2014 and 2015, an Ebola virus outbreak larger than any known before occurred in West Africa. Ebola virus disease (EVD) is highly contagious, and many infected people die. Central to the emergency response to the recent outbreak were local Ebola treatment centers where patients were diagnosed, were isolated, and received supportive care. With thousands of patients dying and many health workers contracting the disease, fear was ubiquitous and distrust abundant. While conducting research in this environment was extremely challenging, the urgent need for treatments and the opportunity to conduct studies that could bring such treatments closer to reality was also recognized. In September 2014, WHO released a short list of existing drugs that were candidates for clinical trials among patients infected in the outbreak. Favipiravir, an antiviral drug developed in Japan for patients with severe influenza, was on the list.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because of the urgent need to find drugs that could reduce deaths caused by Ebola, the researchers decided to conduct a clinical trial using favipiravir in patients with EVD in Guinea. In view of the circumstances, they decided against a randomized controlled trial and instead designed a study where all participants would receive the same treatment. In randomized controlled trials only some participants receive the treatment in addition to standard care, while others serve as a control group and receive standard care only, or standard care plus a placebo. Such studies allow stronger conclusions to be drawn about whether a treatment is safe and whether it works or not. The researchers had two main reasons for this decision. First, patients from the same family or village often sought EVD treatment at the same time, and the researchers felt that it was ethically unacceptable to randomize such groups, with only some of them receiving the experimental drug. Second, the strict isolation procedures imposed to interrupt virus transmission had intensified fear in affected communities and fueled rumors of illicit drug experimentation and organ theft at the treatment centers. In this context, the researchers worried that a randomized study might increase distrust among the community and the reluctance of patients to seek care.
Rather than seeking definitive answers about the safety and efficacy of favipiravir in patients with EVD, the objectives of the study as it was designed were to test the feasibility and acceptability of an emergency trial in the context of a large Ebola outbreak and to learn lessons from the experience. In addition, the researchers planned to collect data on the safety and effectiveness of favipiravir in reducing mortality and viral load in patients with EVD in the hope that their preliminary findings could improve the design of subsequent trials and the chance to provide conclusive answers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
After 13 weeks of preparation, the trial took place from December 2014 to April 2015 at four separate Ebola treatment centers, three in rural areas and one in an urban setting. In addition to standard care (which included rehydration, antimalarial and antibacterial therapies, and medication to reduce fever, pain, and nausea), all participants were given favipiravir by mouth for ten days, at doses substantially higher than those recommended for patients with influenza. Outcomes measured were mortality, viral load changes over time (based on blood samples), and adverse events.
EVD was confirmed with an assay that used patient blood and provided an estimate of the viral load, that is, of how much virus the blood contained. Because viral load was known to influence the course of EVD, the researchers analyzed the participants in two groups, namely, those with a viral load estimate above a certain threshold and those with viral load estimate below the threshold. They also used existing data from Guinean patients diagnosed with Ebola earlier in the outbreak who had received only standard care and calculated an expected mortality rate for patients above and below the viral load threshold.
The researchers were able to enroll 126 participants in the trial. Of these, 111 were included in the final analysis. Of 99 adult and adolescent participants 13 years and older, 55 were in the lower viral load group and 44 in the higher viral load group. Mortality was 20% in the former and 91% in the latter. Neither mortality rate was significantly different from that of earlier patients who had received only standard care. The researchers also found that favipiravir was well tolerated. None of the patients stopped the course of treatment, vomiting following drug intake was rare, and no severe adverse events were attributed to the drug. The researchers did not see a difference in mortality between patients who reported onset of symptoms less than three days before the start of treatment and those whose symptoms had started more than three days the start of treatment.
What Do these Findings Mean?
The report shows that it is possible to conduct an emergency trial during an outbreak in a low-resource setting. In fact, at the time of its acceptance, this paper reported on an Ebola treatment trial larger than any other yet published. The experience described should be useful for similar undertakings in the future. The following conditions contributed to the success of the trial: close collaboration between researchers, local health officials, and affected communities on one hand, and flexibility in design, conduct, and analysis based on close monitoring and interim assessments on the other. Besides using interim results to influence the conduct and analysis of their own trial, the researchers also shared these results with the scientific community in real time, and this feedback influenced other research during the outbreak.
The trial could not answer definitively whether favipiravir treatment was safe or reduced mortality in patients with EVD. The results suggest that the drug is unlikely to be beneficial for patients with very high viral loads, at least when given by itself. They also suggest that favipiravir is safe in patients with lower viral loads, and that in such patients additional efficacy studies are warranted. Intermediate analysis of various measurements in trial participants showed that the estimate of viral load from the field EVD diagnosis test is a good proxy for the actual viral load (determined after the samples were shipped to and analyzed in a reference laboratory in France) and suitable as a surrogate marker. The results also confirm that viral load is a strong predictor of mortality.
Additional Information
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at
The World Health Organization has pages on Ebola virus disease, trials of Ebola treatments and vaccines, and the current update of the list of suitable drugs for testing or use in patients infected with Ebola (originally compiled in September 2014)
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also has information on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
PMCID: PMC4773183  PMID: 26930627
15.  A qualitative study exploring the acceptability of the McNulty-Zelen design for randomised controlled trials evaluating educational interventions 
BMC Family Practice  2015;16:169.
Traditional randomised controlled trials evaluating the effect of educational interventions in general practice may produce biased results as participants know they are being evaluated. We aimed to explore the acceptability of a McNulty-Zelen Cluster Randomised Control Trial (CRT) design which conceals from educational participants that they are in a RCT. Consent is obtained from a trusted third party considered appropriate to give consent on participants’ behalf, intervention practice staff then choose whether to attend the offered education as would occur with normal continuing professional development.
We undertook semi structured telephone interviews in England with 16 general practice (GP) staff involved in a RCT evaluating an educational intervention aimed at increasing chlamydia screening tests in general practice using the McNulty-Zelen design, 4 Primary Care (PC) Research Network officers, 5 Primary Care Trust leads in Public or sexual health, and one Research Ethics committee Chair. Interviews were undertaken by members of the original intervention evaluation McNulty-Zelen design RCT study team. These experienced qualitative interviewers used an agreed semi-structured interview schedule and were careful not to lead the participants. To further mitigate against bias, the data analysis was undertaken by a researcher (CR) not involved in the original RCT.
We reached data saturation and found five main themes;
Support for the design: All found the McNulty-Zelen design acceptable because they considered that it generated more reliable evidence of the value of new educational interventions in real life GP settings.
Lack of familiarity with study design: The design was novel to all. GP staff likened the evaluation using the McNulty–Zelen design to audit of their activities with feedback, which were to them a daily experience and therefore acceptable.
Ethical considerations: Research stakeholders considered the consent procedure should be very clear and that these trial designs should go through at least a proportionate ethical review. GP staff were happy for the PCT leads to give consent on their behalf.
GP research capacity and trial participation: GP staff considered the design increased generalisability, as staff who would not normally volunteer to participate in research due to perceived time constraints and paperwork might do so.
Design ‘worth it’: All interviewees agreed that the advantages of the “more accurate” or “truer” results and information gained about uptake of workshops within Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) outweighed any disadvantages of the consent procedure.
Our RCT was evaluating the effect of an educational intervention to increase chlamydia screening tests in general practices where there was routine monitoring of testing rates; our participants may have been less enthusiastic about the design if it had been evaluating a more controversial educational area, or if data monitoring was not routine.
The McNulty-Zelen design should be considered for the evaluation of educational interventions, but these designs should have clear consent protocols and proportionate ethical review.
Trial registration
The trial was registered on the UK Clinical Research Network Study Portfolio database. UKCRN9722.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12875-015-0356-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4647292  PMID: 26577832
Education for Health Care Professionals; Clinical trials (epidemiology); Public Health Ethics; Primary Care; Ethics; Screening
16.  United States Private-Sector Physicians and Pharmaceutical Contract Research: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001271.
Jill Fisher and Corey Kalbaugh describe their findings from a qualitative research study evaluating the motivations of private-sector physicians conducting contract research for the pharmaceutical industry.
There have been dramatic increases over the past 20 years in the number of nonacademic, private-sector physicians who serve as principal investigators on US clinical trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. However, there has been little research on the implications of these investigators' role in clinical investigation. Our objective was to study private-sector clinics involved in US pharmaceutical clinical trials to understand the contract research arrangements supporting drug development, and specifically how private-sector physicians engaged in contract research describe their professional identities.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study in 2003–2004 combining observation at 25 private-sector research organizations in the southwestern United States and 63 semi-structured interviews with physicians, research staff, and research participants at those clinics. We used grounded theory to analyze and interpret our data. The 11 private-sector physicians who participated in our study reported becoming principal investigators on industry clinical trials primarily because contract research provides an additional revenue stream. The physicians reported that they saw themselves as trial practitioners and as businesspeople rather than as scientists or researchers.
Our findings suggest that in addition to having financial motivation to participate in contract research, these US private-sector physicians have a professional identity aligned with an industry-based approach to research ethics. The generalizability of these findings and whether they have changed in the intervening years should be addressed in future studies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Before a new drug can be used routinely by physicians, it must be investigated in clinical trials—studies that test the drug's safety and effectiveness in people. In the past, clinical trials were usually undertaken in academic medical centers (institutes where physicians provide clinical care, do research, and teach), but increasingly, clinical trials are being conducted in the private sector as part of a growing contract research system. In the US, for example, most clinical trials completed in the 1980s took place in academic medical centers, but nowadays, more than 70% of trials are conducted by nonacademic (community) physicians working under contract to pharmaceutical companies. The number of private-sector nonacademic physicians serving as principal investigators (PIs) for US clinical trials (the PI takes direct responsibility for completion of the trial) increased from 4,000 in 1990 to 20,250 in 2010, and research contracts for clinical trials are now worth more than USṩ11 billion annually.
Why Was This Study Done?
To date, there has been little research on the implications of this change in the conduct of clinical trials. Academic PIs are often involved in both laboratory and clinical research and are therefore likely to identify closely with the science of trials. By contrast, nonacademic PIs may see clinical trials more as a business opportunity—pharmaceutical contract research is profitable to US physicians because they get paid for every step of the trial process. As a result, pharmaceutical companies may now have more control over clinical trial data and more opportunities to suppress negative data through selective publication of study results than previously. In this qualitative study, the researchers explore the outsourcing of clinical trials to private-sector research clinics through observations of, and in-depth interviews with, physicians and other research staff involved in the US clinical trials industry. A qualitative study collects non-quantitative data such as how physicians feel about doing contract research and about their responsibilities to their patients.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2003 and September 2004, the researchers observed the interactions between PIs, trial coordinators (individuals who undertake many of the trial activities such as blood collection), and trial participants at 25 US research organizations in the southwestern US and interviewed 63 informants (including 12 PIs) about the trials they were involved in and their reasons for becoming involved. The researchers found that private-sector physicians became PIs on industry-sponsored clinical trials primarily because contract research was financially lucrative. The physicians perceived their roles in terms of business rather than science and claimed that they offered something to the pharmaceutical industry that academics do not—the ability to carry out a diverse range of trials quickly and effectively, regardless of their medical specialty. Finally, the physicians saw their primary ethical responsibility as providing accurate data to the companies that hired them and did not explicitly refer to their ethical responsibility to trial participants. One possible reason for this shift in ethical concerns is the belief among private-sector physicians that pharmaceutical companies must be making scientifically and ethically sound decisions when designing trials because of the amount of money they invest in them.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that private-sector physicians participate as PIs in pharmaceutical clinical trials primarily for financial reasons and see themselves as trial practitioners and businesspeople rather than as scientists. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be limited by the small number of PIs interviewed and by the time that has elapsed since the researchers collected their qualitative data. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other regions of the US or to other countries. Nevertheless, they have potentially troubling implications for drug development. By hiring private-sector physicians who see themselves as involved more with the business than the science of contract research, pharmaceutical companies may be able to exert more control over the conduct of clinical trials and the publication of trial results than previously. Compared to the traditional investigatorinitiated system of clinical research, this new system of contract research means that clinical trials now lack the independence that is at the heart of best science practices, a development that casts doubt on the robustness of the knowledge being produced about the safety and effectiveness of new drugs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The website is a searchable register of federally and privately supported clinical trials in the US; it provides information about all aspects of clinical trials
The US National Institutes of Health provides information about clinical trials, including personal stories about clinical trials from patients and researchers
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information for patients about clinical trials and medical research, including personal stories about participating in clinical trials
The UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit also provides information for patients about clinical trials and links to information on clinical trials provided by other organizations
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on clinical trials (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC3404112  PMID: 22911055
17.  Innovations in research ethics governance in humanitarian settings 
BMC Medical Ethics  2015;16:10.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the world’s leading humanitarian medical organizations. The increased emphasis in MSF on research led to the creation of an ethics review board (ERB) in 2001. The ERB has encouraged innovation in the review of proposals and the interaction between the ERB and the organization. This has led to some of the advances in ethics governance described in this paper.
We first update our previous work from 2009 describing ERB performance and then highlight five innovative practices:
• A new framework to guide ethics review
• The introduction of a policy exempting a posteriori analysis of routinely collected data
• The preapproval of “emergency” protocols
• General ethical approval of “routine surveys”
• Evaluating the impact of approved studies
The new framework encourages a conversation about ethical issues, rather than imposing quasi-legalistic rules, is more engaged with the specific MSF research context and gives greater prominence to certain values and principles. Some of the innovations implemented by the ERB, such as review exemption or approval of generic protocols, may run counter to many standard operating procedures. We argue that much standard practice in research ethics review ought to be open to challenge and revision. Continued interaction between MSF researchers and independent ERB members has allowed for progressive innovations based on a trustful and respectful partnership between the ERB and the researchers. In the future, three areas merit particular attention. First, the impact of the new framework should be assessed. Second, the impact of research needs to be defined more precisely as a first step towards being meaningfully assessed, including changes of impact over time. Finally, the dialogue between the MSF ERB and the ethics committees in the study countries should be enhanced.
We hope that the innovations in research ethics governance described may be relevant for other organisations carrying out research in fragile contexts and for ethics committees reviewing such research.
PMCID: PMC4351683  PMID: 25890281
Research ethics; Humanitarian contexts; Framework for ethics review; Research impact
18.  Participant Informed Consent in Cluster Randomized Trials: Review 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40436.
The Nuremberg code defines the general ethical framework of medical research with participant consent as its cornerstone. In cluster randomized trials (CRT), obtaining participant informed consent raises logistic and methodologic concerns. First, with randomization of large clusters such as geographical areas, obtaining individual informed consent may be impossible. Second, participants in randomized clusters cannot avoid certain interventions, which implies that participant informed consent refers only to data collection, not administration of an intervention. Third, complete participant information may be a source of selection bias, which then raises methodological concerns. We assessed whether participant informed consent was required in such trials, which type of consent was required, and whether the trial was at risk of selection bias because of the very nature of participant information.
Methods and Findings
We systematically reviewed all reports of CRT published in MEDLINE in 2008 and surveyed corresponding authors regarding the nature of the informed consent and the process of participant inclusion. We identified 173 reports and obtained an answer from 113 authors (65.3%). In total, 23.7% of the reports lacked information on ethics committee approval or participant consent, 53.1% of authors declared that participant consent was for data collection only and 58.5% that the group allocation was not specified for participants. The process of recruitment (chronology of participant recruitment with regard to cluster randomization) was rarely reported, and we estimated that only 56.6% of the trials were free of potential selection bias.
For CRTs, the reporting of ethics committee approval and participant informed consent is less than optimal. Reports should describe whether participants consented for administration of an intervention and/or data collection. Finally, the process of participant recruitment should be fully described (namely, whether participants were informed of the allocation group before being recruited) for a better appraisal of the risk of selection bias.
PMCID: PMC3391275  PMID: 22792319
19.  Novel Ordered Stepped-Wedge Cluster Trial Designs for Detecting Ebola Vaccine Efficacy Using a Spatially Structured Mathematical Model 
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases  2016;10(8):e0004866.
During the 2014 Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, policy-makers were confronted with difficult decisions on how best to test the efficacy of EVD vaccines. On one hand, many were reluctant to withhold a vaccine that might prevent a fatal disease from study participants randomized to a control arm. On the other, regulatory bodies called for rigorous placebo-controlled trials to permit direct measurement of vaccine efficacy prior to approval of the products. A stepped-wedge cluster study (SWCT) was proposed as an alternative to a more traditional randomized controlled vaccine trial to address these concerns. Here, we propose novel “ordered stepped-wedge cluster trial” (OSWCT) designs to further mitigate tradeoffs between ethical concerns, logistics, and statistical rigor.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We constructed a spatially structured mathematical model of the EVD outbreak in Sierra Leone. We used the output of this model to simulate and compare a series of stepped-wedge cluster vaccine studies. Our model reproduced the observed order of first case occurrence within districts of Sierra Leone. Depending on the infection risk within the trial population and the trial start dates, the statistical power to detect a vaccine efficacy of 90% varied from 14% to 32% for standard SWCT, and from 67% to 91% for OSWCTs for an alpha error of 5%. The model’s projection of first case occurrence was robust to changes in disease natural history parameters.
Ordering clusters in a step-wedge trial based on the cluster’s underlying risk of infection as predicted by a spatial model can increase the statistical power of a SWCT. In the event of another hemorrhagic fever outbreak, implementation of our proposed OSWCT designs could improve statistical power when a step-wedge study is desirable based on either ethical concerns or logistical constraints.
Author Summary
When a vaccine is developed, it undergoes a series of tests to assess its safety and effectiveness. The last of these is called a Phase III clinical trial, in which the vaccine is tested on a subset of the population before it is approved for general use. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) in which individuals are randomized to receive vaccine or placebo is the most direct and efficient trial design to assess the efficacy of a vaccine. However, in circumstances where a disease has a very high mortality rate (such as Ebola virus disease), the use of placebo is ethically questionable, especially when there is strong evidence that a vaccine will be safe and efficacious. Vaccine trials often must also address logistical constraints that prevent the introduction of the vaccine to the entire trial population in certain resource-poor settings. These issues were front and center in discussions about vaccine trials during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. The medical community faced questions on the clinical trial design that best balanced tradeoffs between ethical concerns, logistics, and statistical rigor. In this study, we propose and assess novel “ordered stepped-wedge cluster trial” designs as an alternative to mitigate these tradeoffs.
PMCID: PMC4979980  PMID: 27509037
20.  Ghost Authorship in Industry-Initiated Randomised Trials 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(1):e19.
Ghost authorship, the failure to name, as an author, an individual who has made substantial contributions to an article, may result in lack of accountability. The prevalence and nature of ghost authorship in industry-initiated randomised trials is not known.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cohort study comparing protocols and corresponding publications for industry-initiated trials approved by the Scientific-Ethical Committees for Copenhagen and Frederiksberg in 1994–1995. We defined ghost authorship as present if individuals who wrote the trial protocol, performed the statistical analyses, or wrote the manuscript, were not listed as authors of the publication, or as members of a study group or writing committee, or in an acknowledgment. We identified 44 industry-initiated trials. We did not find any trial protocol or publication that stated explicitly that the clinical study report or the manuscript was to be written or was written by the clinical investigators, and none of the protocols stated that clinical investigators were to be involved with data analysis. We found evidence of ghost authorship for 33 trials (75%; 95% confidence interval 60%–87%). The prevalence of ghost authorship was increased to 91% (40 of 44 articles; 95% confidence interval 78%–98%) when we included cases where a person qualifying for authorship was acknowledged rather than appearing as an author. In 31 trials, the ghost authors we identified were statisticians. It is likely that we have overlooked some ghost authors, as we had very limited information to identify the possible omission of other individuals who would have qualified as authors.
Ghost authorship in industry-initiated trials is very common. Its prevalence could be considerably reduced, and transparency improved, if existing guidelines were followed, and if protocols were publicly available.
Of 44 industry-initiated trials, there was evidence of ghost authorship in 33, increasing to 40 when a person qualifying for authorship was acknowledged rather than appearing as an author.
Editors' Summary
Original scientific findings are usually published in the form of a “paper”, whether it is actually distributed on paper, or circulated via the internet, as this one is. Papers are normally prepared by a group of researchers who did the research and are then listed at the top of the article. These authors therefore take responsibility for the integrity of the results and interpretation of them. However, many people are worried that sometimes the author list on the paper does not tell the true story of who was involved. In particular, for clinical research, case histories and previous research has suggested that “ghost authorship” is commonplace. Ghost authors are people who were involved in some way in the research study, or writing the paper, but who have been left off the final author list. This might happen because the study “looks” more credible if the true authors (for example, company employees or freelance medical writers) are not revealed. This practice might hide competing interests that readers should be aware of, and has therefore been condemned by academics, groups of editors, and some pharmaceutical companies.
Why Was This Study Done?
This group of researchers wanted to get an idea of how often ghost authorship happened in medical research done by companies. Previous studies looking into this used surveys, whereby the researchers would write to one author on each of a group of papers to ask whether anyone else had been involved in the work but who was not listed on the paper. These sorts of studies typically underestimate the rate of ghost authorship, because the main author might not want to admit what had been going on. However, the researchers here managed to get access to trial protocols (documents setting out the plans for future research studies), which gave them a way to investigate ghost authorship.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In order to investigate the frequency and type of ghost authorship, these researchers identified every trial which was approved between 1994 and 1995 by the ethics committees of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg in Denmark. Then they winnowed this group down to include only the trials that were sponsored by industry (pharmaceutical companies and others), and only those trials that were finished and published. The protocols for each trial were obtained from the ethics committees and the researchers then matched up each protocol with its corresponding paper. Then, they compared names which appeared in the protocol against names appearing on the eventual paper, either on the author list or acknowledged elsewhere in the paper as being involved. The researchers ended up studying 44 trials. For 31 of these (75% of them) they found some evidence of ghost authorship, in that people were identified as having written the protocol or who had been involved in doing statistical analyses or writing the manuscript, but did not end up listed in the manuscript. If the definition of authorship was made narrower, and “ghost authorship” included people qualifying for authorship who were mentioned in the acknowledgements but not the author list, the researchers' estimate went up to 91%, that is 40 of the 44 trials. For most of the trials with missing authors, the ghost was a statistician (the person who analyzes the trial data).
What Do These Findings Mean?
In this study, the researchers found that ghost authorship was very common in papers published in medical journals (this study covered a broad range of peer-reviewed journals in many medical disciplines). The method used in this paper seems more reliable than using surveys to work out how often ghost authorship happens. The researchers aimed to define authorship using the policies set out by a group called the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), and the findings here suggest that the ICMJE's standards for authorship are very often ignored. This means that people who read the published paper cannot always accurately judge or trust the information presented within it, and competing interests may be hidden. The researchers here suggest that protocols should be made publicly available so that everyone can see what trials are planned and who is involved in conducting them. The findings also suggest that journals should not only list the authors of each paper but describe what each author has done, so that the published information accurately reflects what has been carried out.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Read the Perspective by Liz Wager, which discusses these findings in more depth
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) is a group of general medical journal editors who have produced general guidelines for biomedical manuscripts; their definition of authorship is also described
The Committee on Publication Ethics is a forum for editors of peer-reviewed journals to discuss issues related to the integrity of the scientific record; the Web site lists anonymized problems and the committee's advice, not just regarding authorship, but other types of problems as well
Good Publication Practice for Pharmaceutical Companies outlines common standards for publication of industry-sponsored medical research, and some pharmaceutical companies have agreed to these
PMCID: PMC1769411  PMID: 17227134
21.  Ethical considerations in malaria research proposal review: empirical evidence from 114 proposals submitted to an Ethics Committee in Thailand 
Malaria Journal  2015;14:342.
Malaria research is typically conducted in developing countries in areas of endemic disease. This raises specific ethical issues, including those related to local cultural concepts of health and disease, the educational background of study subjects, and principles of justice at the community and country level. Research Ethics Committees (RECs) are responsible for regulating the ethical conduct of research, but questions have been raised whether RECs facilitate or impede research, and about the quality of REC review itself. This study examines the review process for malaria research proposals submitted to the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University, Thailand.
Proposals for all studies submitted for review from January 2010 to December 2014 were included. Individual REC members’ reviewing forms were evaluated. Ethical issues (e.g., scientific merit, risk–benefit, sample size, or informed-consent) raised in the forms were counted and analysed according to characteristics, including study classification/design, use of specimens, study site, and study population.
All 114 proposals submitted during the study period were analysed, comprising biomedical studies (17 %), drug trials (13 %), laboratory studies (24 %) and epidemiological studies (46 %). They included multi-site (13 %) and international studies (4 %), and those involving minority populations (28 %), children (17 %) and pregnant women (7 %). Drug trials had the highest proportion of questions raised for most ethical issues, while issues concerning privacy and confidentiality tended to be highest for laboratory and epidemiology studies. Clarifications on ethical issues were requested by the ethics committee more for proposals involving new specimen collection. Studies involving stored data and specimens tended to attract more issues around privacy and confidentiality. Proposals involving minority populations were more likely to raise issues than those that did not. Those involving vulnerable populations were more likely to attract concerns related to study rationale and design.
This study stratified ethical issues raised in a broad spectrum of research proposals. The Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University is a significant contributor to global malaria research output. The findings shed light on the ethical review process that may be useful for stakeholders, including researchers, RECs and sponsors, conducting malaria research in other endemic settings.
PMCID: PMC4570222  PMID: 26370243
Ethics; Developing countries; Malaria; Institutional review board; Proposals
22.  Guidelines, Editors, Pharma And The Biological Paradigm Shift 
Mens Sana Monographs  2007;5(1):27-30.
Private investment in biomedical research has increased over the last few decades. At most places it has been welcomed as the next best thing to technology itself. Much of the intellectual talent from academic institutions is getting absorbed in lucrative positions in industry. Applied research finds willing collaborators in venture capital funded industry, so a symbiotic growth is ensured for both.
There are significant costs involved too. As academia interacts with industry, major areas of conflict of interest especially applicable to biomedical research have arisen. They are related to disputes over patents and royalty, hostile encounters between academia and industry, as also between public and private enterprise, legal tangles, research misconduct of various types, antagonistic press and patient-advocate lobbies and a general atmosphere in which commercial interest get precedence over patient welfare.
Pharma image stinks because of a number of errors of omission and commission. A recent example is suppression of negative findings about Bayer's Trasylol (Aprotinin) and the marketing maneuvers of Eli Lilly's Xigris (rhAPC). Whenever there is a conflict between patient vulnerability and profit motives, pharma often tends to tilt towards the latter. Moreover there are documents that bring to light how companies frequently cross the line between patient welfare and profit seeking behaviour.
A voluntary moratorium over pharma spending to pamper drug prescribers is necessary. A code of conduct adopted recently by OPPI in India to limit pharma company expenses over junkets and trinkets is a welcome step.
Clinical practice guidelines (CPG) are considered important as they guide the diagnostic/therapeutic regimen of a large number of medical professionals and hospitals and provide recommendations on drugs, their dosages and criteria for selection. Along with clinical trials, they are another area of growing influence by the pharmaceutical industry. For example, in a relatively recent survey of 2002, it was found that about 60% of 192 authors of clinical practice guidelines reported they had financial connections with the companies whose drugs were under consideration. There is a strong case for making CPGs based not just on effectivity but cost effectivity. The various ramifications of this need to be spelt out. Work of bodies like the Appraisal of Guidelines Research and Evaluation (AGREE) Collaboration and Guidelines Advisory Committee (GAC) are also worth a close look.
Even the actions of Foundations that work for disease amelioration have come under scrutiny. The process of setting up ‘Best Practices’ Guidelines for interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and clinicians has already begun and can have important consequences for patient care. Similarly, Good Publication Practice (GPP) for pharmaceutical companies have also been set up aimed at improving the behaviour of drug companies while reporting drug trials
The rapidly increasing trend toward influence and control by industry has become a concern for many. It is of such importance that the Association of American Medical Colleges has issued two relatively new documents - one, in 2001, on how to deal with individual conflicts of interest; and the other, in 2002, on how to deal with institutional conflicts of interest in the conduct of clinical research. Academic Medical Centers (AMCs), as also medical education and research institutions at other places, have to adopt means that minimize their conflicts of interest.
Both medical associations and research journal editors are getting concerned with individual and institutional conflicts of interest in the conduct of clinical research and documents are now available which address these issues. The 2001 ICMJE revision calls for full disclosure of the sponsor's role in research, as well as assurance that the investigators are independent of the sponsor, are fully accountable for the design and conduct of the trial, have independent access to all trial data and control all editorial and publication decisions. However the findings of a 2002 study suggest that academic institutions routinely participate in clinical research that does not adhere to ICMJE standards of accountability, access to data and control of publication.
There is an inevitable slant to produce not necessarily useful but marketable products which ensure the profitability of industry and research grants outflow to academia. Industry supports new, not traditional, therapies, irrespective of what is effective. Whatever traditional therapy is supported is most probably because the company concerned has a product with a big stake there, which has remained a ‘gold standard’ or which that player thinks has still some ‘juice’ left.
Industry sponsorship is mainly for potential medications, not for trying to determine whether there may be non-pharmacological interventions that may be equally good, if not better. In the paradigm shift towards biological psychiatry, the role of industry sponsorship is not overt but probably more pervasive than many have realised, or the right thinking may consider good, for the health of the branch in the long run.
An issue of major concern is protection of the interests of research subjects. Patients agree to become research subjects not only for personal medical benefit but, as an extension, to benefit the rest of the patient population and also advance medical research.
We all accept that industry profits have to be made, and investment in research and development by the pharma industry is massive. However, we must also accept there is a fundamental difference between marketing strategies for other entities and those for drugs.
The ultimate barometer is patient welfare and no drug that compromises it can stand the test of time. So, how does it make even commercial sense in the long term to market substandard products? The greatest mistake long-term players in industry may make is try to adopt the shady techniques of the upstart new entrant. Secrecy of marketing/sales tactics, of the process of manufacture, of other strategies and plans of business expansion, of strategies to tackle competition are fine business tactics. But it is critical that secrecy as a tactic not extend to reporting of research findings, especially those contrary to one's product.
Pharma has no option but to make a quality product, do comprehensive adverse reaction profiles, and market it only if it passes both tests.
Why does pharma adopt questionable tactics? The reasons are essentially two:
What with all the constraints, a drug comes to the pharmacy after huge investments. There are crippling overheads and infrastructure costs to be recovered. And there are massive profit margins to be maintained. If these were to be dependent only on genuine drug discoveries, that would be taking too great a risk.Industry players have to strike the right balance between profit making and credibility. In profit making, the marketing champions play their role. In credibility ratings, researchers and paid spokes-persons play their role. All is hunky dory till marketing is based on credibility. When there is nothing available to make for credibility, something is projected as one and marketing carried out, in the calculated hope that profits can accrue, since profit making must continue endlessly. That is what makes pharma adopt even questionable means to make profits.
Essentially, there are four types of drugs. First, drugs that work and have minimal side-effects; second, drugs which work but have serious side-effects; third, drugs that do not work and have minimal side-effects; and fourth, drugs which work minimally but have serious side-effects. It is the second and fourth types that create major hassles for industry. Often, industry may try to project the fourth type as the second to escape censure.
The major cat and mouse game being played by conscientious researchers is in exposing the third and fourth for what they are and not allowing industry to palm them off as the first and second type respectively. The other major game is in preventing the second type from being projected as the first. The third type are essentially harmless, so they attract censure all right and some merriment at the antics to market them. But they escape anything more than a light rap on the knuckles, except when they are projected as the first type.
What is necessary for industry captains and long-term players is to realise:
Their major propelling force can only be producing the first type. 2. They accept the second type only till they can lay their hands on the first. 3. The third type can be occasionally played around with to shore up profits, but never by projecting them as the first type. 4. The fourth type are the laggards, real threat to credibility and therefore do not deserve any market hype or promotion.
In finding out why most pharma indulges in questionable tactics, we are lead to some interesting solutions to prevent such tactics with the least amount of hassles for all concerned, even as both profits and credibility are kept intact.
PMCID: PMC3192391  PMID: 22058616
Academia; Pharmaceutical Industry; Clinical Practice Guidelines; Best Practice Guidelines; Academic Medical Centers; Medical Associations; Research Journals; Clinical Research; Public Welfare; Pharma Image; Corporate Welfare; Biological Psychiatry; Law Suits Against Industry
23.  Ethical issues in implementation research: a discussion of the problems in achieving informed consent 
Improved quality of care is a policy objective of health care systems around the world. Implementation research is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of clinical research findings into routine clinical practice, and hence to reduce inappropriate care. It includes the study of influences on healthcare professionals' behaviour and methods to enable them to use research findings more effectively. Cluster randomized trials represent the optimal design for evaluating the effectiveness of implementation strategies. Various codes of medical ethics, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki inform medical research, but their relevance to cluster randomised trials in implementation research is unclear. This paper discusses the applicability of various ethical codes to obtaining consent in cluster trials in implementation research.
The appropriate application of biomedical codes to implementation research is not obvious. Discussion of the nature and practice of informed consent in implementation research cluster trials must consider the levels at which consent can be sought, and for what purpose it can be sought. The level at which an intervention is delivered can render the idea of patient level consent meaningless. Careful consideration of the ownership of information, and rights of access to and exploitation of data is required. For health care professionals and organizations, there is a balance between clinical freedom and responsibility to participate in research.
While ethical justification for clinical trials relies heavily on individual consent, for implementation research aspects of distributive justice, economics, and political philosophy underlie the debate. Societies may need to trade off decisions on the choice between individualized consent and valid implementation research. We suggest that social sciences codes could usefully inform the consideration of implementation research by members of Research Ethics Committees.
PMCID: PMC2639614  PMID: 19091100
24.  Inadequate reporting of research ethics review and informed consent in cluster randomised trials: review of random sample of published trials 
Objectives To investigate the extent to which authors of cluster randomised trials adhered to two basic requirements of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ uniform requirements for manuscripts (namely, reporting of research ethics review and informed consent), to determine whether the adequacy of reporting has improved over time, and to identify characteristics of cluster randomised trials associated with reporting of ethics practices.
Design Review of a random sample of published cluster randomised trials from an electronic search in Medline.
Setting Cluster randomised trials in health research published in English language journals from 2000 to 2008.
Study sample 300 cluster randomised trials published in 150 journals.
Results 77 (26%, 95% confidence interval 21% to 31%) trials failed to report ethics review. The proportion reporting ethics review increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report ethics review than were trials that used routine data sources only (79% (n=151) v 55% (23); P=0.008). Trials that accounted for clustering in the design and analysis were more likely to report ethics review. The median impact factor of the journal of publication was higher for trials that reported ethics review (3.4 v 2.3; P<0.001). 93 (31%, 26% to 36%) trials failed to report consent. Reporting of consent increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with interventions targeting participants at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were trials with interventions targeting the cluster level (87% (90) v 48% (41); P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were those that used routine data sources only (78% (146) v 29% (11); P<0.001).
Conclusions Reporting of research ethics protections in cluster randomised trials is inadequate. In addition to research ethics approval, authors should report whether informed consent was sought, from whom consent was sought, and what consent was for.
PMCID: PMC3092521  PMID: 21562003
25.  Inadequate reporting of research ethics review and informed consent in cluster randomised trials: review of random sample of published trials 
The BMJ  2011;342:d2496.
Objectives To investigate the extent to which authors of cluster randomised trials adhered to two basic requirements of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ uniform requirements for manuscripts (namely, reporting of research ethics review and informed consent), to determine whether the adequacy of reporting has improved over time, and to identify characteristics of cluster randomised trials associated with reporting of ethics practices.
Design Review of a random sample of published cluster randomised trials from an electronic search in Medline.
Setting Cluster randomised trials in health research published in English language journals from 2000 to 2008.
Study sample 300 cluster randomised trials published in 150 journals.
Results 77 (26%, 95% confidence interval 21% to 31%) trials failed to report ethics review. The proportion reporting ethics review increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report ethics review than were trials that used routine data sources only (79% (n=151) v 55% (23); P=0.008). Trials that accounted for clustering in the design and analysis were more likely to report ethics review. The median impact factor of the journal of publication was higher for trials that reported ethics review (3.4 v 2.3; P<0.001). 93 (31%, 26% to 36%) trials failed to report consent. Reporting of consent increased significantly over time (P<0.001). Trials with interventions targeting participants at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were trials with interventions targeting the cluster level (87% (90) v 48% (41); P<0.001). Trials with data collection interventions at the individual level were more likely to report consent than were those that used routine data sources only (78% (146) v 29% (11); P<0.001).
Conclusions Reporting of research ethics protections in cluster randomised trials is inadequate. In addition to research ethics approval, authors should report whether informed consent was sought, from whom consent was sought, and what consent was for.
PMCID: PMC3092521  PMID: 21562003

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