Negative Trials Have As Much Scientific Impact As Positive Studies

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Joseph Unger, PhD, MS SWOG Statistical Center Assistant Member, Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Affiliate Assistant Professor, Health Services Research, University of Washington Seattle, WA 98109-1024

Dr. Joseph Unger

Joseph Unger, PhD, MS
SWOG Statistical Center
Assistant Member, Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Affiliate Assistant Professor, Health Services Research, University of Washington
Seattle, WA  98109-1024

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Unger: The rate at which trials are positive has previously been examined, and the relationship between trial results and publication rates in the context of publication bias has also been studied. But the comparative scientific impact of positive vs negative clinical trials using citation data has not been investigated

We used the phase III trial database of SWOG, a major national cooperative clinical trials group, in combination with its trial publication database and citation data from Google Scholar, to compare the scientific impact of positive vs negative phase III cancer clinical treatment trials.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Dr. Unger: We found that the scientific impact of primary articles from positive trials was greater than for negative trials as measured by publication in very high impact journals and mean citation rates over 20 years. But negative trials also had a substantial impact on the scientific literature, and when the citation counts from both primary and secondary publications were considered, the total scientific impact between positive and negative trials was roughly similar.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Unger: Negative trials are sometimes regarded as scientific failures. But a great deal can be learned from negative trials, including especially what treatments do not work. Negative trials also allow opportunity for secondary data analyses which generate new research questions for future trials. This study shows that when all of the science associated with completed cancer treatment trials is considered, negative trials have about as much scientific impact as positive trials over the long term.

So the take home message from this study is that negative trials are not actually scientific failures, and can be as scientifically impactful as positive trials. My hope is that this finding provides encouragement to both patients and researchers, since it indicates that contributing to a trial and to the new science and knowledge gained from trials, regardless whether a trial ends up being positive or negative, is vitally important to cancer research.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Unger: I plan to examine patterns of scientific impact in other disease settings.

 

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:

Unger JM, Barlow WE, Ramsey SD, LeBlanc M, Blanke CD, Hershman DL. The Scientific Impact of Positive and Negative Phase 3 Cancer Clinical Trials. JAMA Oncol.Published online March 10, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.6487.

 Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

More Medical Research Interviews on MedicalResearch.com

Dr. Joseph Unger (2016). Negative Trials Have As Much Scientific Impact As Positive Studies MedicalResearch.com

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