If you are interested in participating in a clinical study, see our list of Studies Seeking Participants.
Another source of clinical trials is www.clinicaltrials.gov, which is a database maintained by the U.S. government of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.
Clinical Trials FAQs
- What is a clinical trial?
- Why participate in a clinical trial?
- Who can participate in a clinical trial?
- What is informed consent?
- What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?
- What should people consider before participating in a trial?
- Can a participant leave a clinical trial after it has begun?
- What is a protocol?
- What is a placebo?
- What is a control or control group?
- What are the phases of clinical trials?
What is a clinical trial?
A clinical trial (also clinical research) is a research study in human volunteers to answer specific health questions. Clinical trials are initiated by Pharmaceutical companies or medical researchers to find treatments for various diseases that improve health and quality of life.
Why participate in a clinical trial?
It is a very personal decision to participate in clinical trials. Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research.
Who can participate in a clinical trial?
All clinical trials have guidelines about who can participate. Using inclusion/exclusion criteria is an important principle of medical research that helps to produce reliable results. The factors that allow someone to participate in a clinical trial are called “inclusion criteria” and those that disallow someone from participating are called “exclusion criteria”. These criteria are based on such factors as age, gender, the type and stage of a disease, previous treatment history, and other medical conditions. Before joining a clinical trial, a participant must qualify for the study. Some research studies seek participants with illnesses or conditions to be studied in the clinical trial, while others need healthy participants. It is important to note that inclusion and exclusion criteria are not used to reject people personally. Instead, the criteria are used to identify appropriate participants and keep them safe. The criteria help ensure that researchers will be able to answer the questions they plan to study.
What is informed consent?
Informed consent is the process of learning the key facts about a clinical trial before deciding whether or not to participate. It is also a continuing process throughout the study to provide information for participants. To help someone decide whether or not to participate, the doctors and nurses involved in the trial explain the details of the study. If the participant’s native language is not English, translation assistance can be provided. Then the research team provides an informed consent document that includes details about the study, such as its purpose, duration, required procedures, and key contacts. Risks and potential benefits are explained in the informed consent document. The participant then decides whether or not to sign the document. Informed consent is not a contract, and the participant may withdraw from the trial at any time.
What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?
Clinical trials that are well-designed and well-executed offer excellent opportunities for eligible participants to:
- Play an active role in their own health care.
- Obtain referrals to a study site.
- Engage care partners as companions in care.
- Gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available.
- Obtain expert medical, sometimes multidisciplinary, care at leading health care facilities during the trial.
- Help others by contributing to medical research.
- Enhance personal knowledge of a medical condition.
There are risks to clinical trials.
- Depending on the study design, there may be no guarantee that the participant will receive the active ingredient.
- There may be unpleasant, serious or even life-threatening side effects to experimental treatment.
- The experimental treatment may not be effective for the participant.
- The research may require collection of data, for example, genetic information, that could potentially cause psychological or informational harm.
- The research criteria may require lifestyle modifications, for example, dietary changes.
- The protocol may require more of the participant’s time and attention than would a non-protocol treatment, including trips to the study site, more treatments, hospital stays or complex dosage requirements.
- The experimental drug may not be approved by Health Canada and, if approved, may not be covered under provincial drug formularies.
What should people consider before participating in a trial?
People should know as much as possible about the clinical trial and feel comfortable asking the members of the health care team questions about it, the care expected while in a trial, and the cost of the trial. The following questions might be helpful for the participant to discuss with the health care team. Some of the answers to these questions are found in the informed consent document. What is the purpose of the study?
- Who is going to be in the study?
- Why do researchers believe the experimental treatment being tested may be effective? Has it been tested before?
- What kinds of tests and experimental treatments are involved?
- How do the possible risks, side effects, and benefits in the study compare with my current treatment?
- How might this trial affect my daily life?
- How long will the trial last?
- Will hospitalization be required?
- Who will pay for the experimental treatment?
- Will I be reimbursed for other expenses?
- What type of long-term follow up care is part of this study?
- How will I know that the experimental treatment is working? Will results of the trials be provided to me?
- Who will be in charge of my care?
Can a participant leave a clinical trial after it has begun?
Yes. A participant can leave a clinical trial, at any time. When withdrawing from the trial, the participant should let the research team know about it, and the reasons for leaving the study. Remember that the quality of care you receive from your physician will not change as a result of your withdrawal from the trial.
What is a protocol?
A protocol is a study plan on which all clinical trials are based. The plan is carefully designed to safeguard the health of the participants as well as answer specific research questions. A protocol describes what types of people may participate in the trial; the schedule of tests, procedures, medications, and dosages; and the length of the study. While in a clinical trial, participants following a protocol are seen regularly by the research staff to monitor their health and to determine the safety and effectiveness of their treatment.
What is a placebo?
A placebo is an inactive pill, liquid, or powder that has no treatment value. In clinical trials, experimental treatments are often compared with placebos to assess the experimental treatment’s effectiveness. In some studies, the participants in the control group will receive a placebo instead of an active drug or experimental treatment.
What is a control or control group?
A control is the standard by which experimental observations are evaluated. In many clinical trials, one group of patients will be given an experimental drug or treatment, while the control group is given either a standard treatment for the illness or a placebo.
What are the phases of clinical trials?
Clinical trials are conducted in phases. The trials at each phase have a different purpose and help scientists answer different questions:
In Phase I trials, researchers test a experimental drug or treatment in a small group of people (20-80) for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects.
In Phase II trials, the experimental study drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people (100-300) to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.
In Phase III trials, the experimental study drug or treatment is given to large groups of people (1,000-3,000) to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the experimental drug or treatment to be used safely.
In Phase IV trials, post marketing studies delineate additional information including the drug’s risks, benefits, and optimal use.