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Decline In Placebo-Controlled Trial Results Suggests New Directions For Comparative Effectiveness Research

Author: Mark Olfson, Steven C. Marcus
$15.00

The Affordable Care Act offers strong support for comparative effectiveness research, which entails comparisons among active treatments, to provide the foundation for evidence-based practice. Traditionally, a key form of research into the effectiveness of therapeutic treatments has been placebo-controlled trials, in which a specified treatment is compared to placebo. These trials feature high-contrast comparisons between treatments. Historical trends in placebo-controlled trials have been evaluated to help guide the comparative effectiveness research agenda. We investigated placebo-controlled trials reported in four leading medical journals between 1966 and 2010. We found that there was a significant decline in average effect size or average difference in efficacy (the ability to produce a desired effect) between the active treatment and placebo. On average, recently studied treatments offered only small benefits in efficacy over placebo. A decline in effect sizes in conventional placebo-controlled trials supports an increased emphasis on other avenues of research, including comparative studies on the safety, tolerability, and cost of treatments with established efficacy.

The Affordable Care Act offers strong support for comparative effectiveness research, which entails comparisons among active treatments, to provide the foundation for evidence-based practice. Traditionally, a key form of research into the effectiveness of therapeutic treatments has been placebo-controlled trials, in which a specified treatment is compared to placebo. These trials feature high-contrast comparisons between treatments. Historical trends in placebo-controlled trials have been evaluated to help guide the comparative effectiveness research agenda. We investigated placebo-controlled trials reported in four leading medical journals between 1966 and 2010. We found that there was a significant decline in average effect size or average difference in efficacy (the ability to produce a desired effect) between the active treatment and placebo. On average, recently studied treatments offered only small benefits in efficacy over placebo. A decline in effect sizes in conventional placebo-controlled trials supports an increased emphasis on other avenues of research, including comparative studies on the safety, tolerability, and cost of treatments with established efficacy.

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