Clinical trials are medical research studies that involve the participation of volunteers to help scientists understand and develop new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and their symptoms. These investigational treatments may be new drugs, a combination of drugs, new ways to deliver an already marketed drug, or a medical device.
Before a new medication is approved, it must undergo a series of lengthy and rigorous tests, first in the laboratory, then in animals, and ultimately in humans. A new medication or medical device must not only be safe and effective, but in many cases it must also demonstrate a superior benefit when compared to similarly approved products.
A clinical study is conducted according to a research plan known as a protocol that has been developed by the pharmaceutical company and reviewed by the FDA along with an Institutional Review Board (IRB) representing the public interest. These agencies monitor the progress of these studies.
The protocol determines:
- The reason for the study
- The number of participants
- The criteria used to determine who is eligible for the study
- A schedule for procedures, tests, drugs and dosages
- The length of the study
- What information will be gathered about the participants
- And much, much more
Clinical trials are led by a principal investigator, who is often a medical doctor, along with a research team made up of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. All of the participants are volunteers. It is important to conduct research in a variety of people to detect different responses to a single investigational product.