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Is This Clinical Trial Fully Registered?: A Statement from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors* FREE

Catherine D. De Angelis, MD, MPH; Jeffrey M. Drazen, MD; Prof Frank A. Frizelle, MB, ChB, MMedSc, FRACS; Charlotte Haug, MD, PhD, MSc; John Hoey, MD; Richard Horton, FRCP; Sheldon Kotzin, MLS; Christine Laine, MD, MPH; Ana Marusic, MD, PhD; A. John P.M. Overbeke, MD, PhD; Torben V. Schroeder, MD, DMSc; Harold C. Sox, MD; and Martin B. Van Der Weyden, MD
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Ann Intern Med. 2005;143(2):146-148. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-143-2-200507190-00016
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In September 2004, the members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) published a joint editorial aimed at promoting registration of all clinical trials (1). We stated that we will consider a trial for publication only if it has been registered before the enrollment of the first patient. This policy applies to trials that start recruiting on or after 1 July 2005. Because many ongoing trials were not registered at inception, we will consider for publication ongoing trials that are registered before 13 September 2005. Our goal then and now is to foster a comprehensive, publicly available database of clinical trials. A complete registry of trials would be a fitting way to thank the thousands of participants who have placed themselves at risk by volunteering for clinical trials. They deserve to know that the information that accrues from their altruism is part of the public record, where it is available to guide decisions about patient care, and deserve to know that decisions about their care rest on all of the evidence, not just the trials that authors decided to report and that journal editors decided to publish.

We are not alone in pursuing this goal. The World Health Organization (WHO), through meetings in New York, Mexico City, and Geneva, has brought us close to the goal of a single worldwide standard for the information that trial authors must disclose. Around the world, governments are beginning to legislate mandatory disclosure of all trials. For example, among the bodies considering new legislation is the U.S. Congress, where the proposed Fair Access to Clinical Trials (FACT) Act would expand the current mandate for registration of clinical trials. Many other journals have adopted our policy of requiring trial registration. These initiatives show that trial registration has become a public issue. But, as our deadline for registration approaches, trial authors and sponsors want to be sure that they understand our requirements, so that reports of their research will be eligible for editorial review. The purpose of this joint and simultaneously published editorial is to answer questions about the ICMJE initiative and to bring our position into harmony with that of others who are working toward the same end.

Our definition of a clinical trial remains essentially the same as in our September 2004 editorial: “Any research project that prospectively assigns human subjects to intervention and comparison groups to study the cause-and-effect relationship between a medical intervention and a health outcome.” By “medical intervention” we mean any intervention used to modify a health outcome. This definition includes drugs, surgical procedures, devices, behavioral treatments, process-of-care changes, and the like. We update our 2004 editorial to state that a trial must have at least 1 prospectively assigned concurrent control or comparison group in order to trigger the requirement for registration.

Among the trials that meet this definition, which need to be registered? The ICMJE wants to ensure public access to all “clinically directive” trials—trials that test a clinical hypothesis about health outcomes (for example, “Is drug X as effective as drug Y in treating heart failure?”). We have excluded trials from our registration requirement if their primary goal is to assess major unknown toxicity or determine pharmacokinetics (phase 1 trials). In contrast, we think the public deserves to know about trials that could shape the body of evidence about clinical effectiveness or adverse effects. Therefore, we require registration of all trials whose primary purpose is to affect clinical practice (phase 3 trials). Between these 2 extremes are some clinical trials whose prespecified goal is to investigate the biology of disease or to provide preliminary data that may lead to larger, clinically directive trials.

We recognize that requiring public registration of trials whose prespecified goal is to investigate the biology of disease or to direct further research might slow the forces that drive innovation. Therefore, each journal editor will decide on a case-by-case basis about reviewing unregistered trials in this category. Authors whose trial is unregistered will have to convince the editor that they had a sound rationale when they decided not to register their trial. The ICMJE will maintain this policy for the next 2 years. We will then review our experience.

Our September 2004 editorial specified the information that we would require for trial registration. Attendees at a recent meeting of the WHO registration advisory group identified a minimal registration data set of 20 items (Table). The WHO-mandated items collectively address every key requirement that we established in our September 2004 editorial. The ICMJE supports the WHO minimal data set and has adopted it as the ICMJE's requirement: We will consider a trial for publication if the authors register it at inception by completing all 20 fields in the WHO minimal data set. As individual editors, we will review the data in the registration fields when we decide whether to consider the trial for publication. We will consider a registration data set inadequate if it has missing fields or fields that contain uninformative terminology. If an investigator has already registered a clinical trial in a publicly owned, publicly accessible registry using the data fields that we specified in our 2004 editorial, we will consider that registration to be complete as long as each field contains useful information.

Table Jump PlaceholderTable.  Minimal Registration Data Set

Acceptable completion of data fields is an important concern. It shouldn't be, but it is. Many entries in the publicly accessible clinicaltrials.gov database do not provide meaningful information in some key data fields. A search conducted on 4 May 2005 (Zarin D. Personal communication, 2005) indicates that certain pharmaceutical-company entries list a meaningless phrase (for example, “investigational drug”) in place of the actual name of the drug, even though a U.S. law requires trial registrants to provide “intervention name” (http://www.fda.gov/cder/guidance/4856fnl.htm). Many companies and other entities are completing the data fields in a meaningful fashion. Data entries must include information that will be of value to patients and health professionals; the intervention name is needed if one is to search on that intervention.

We recognize that clinical trial registries have many uses, but whatever the use, a worldwide uniform standard for a minimal database is necessary. We have participated in the WHO effort to establish a clinically meaningful trial registration process. The ICMJE supports this ongoing project. When it is complete we will evaluate the process, and if it meets our primary objectives, we will adopt it.

We stated our requirements for an acceptable trial registry in the September 2004 editorial, and they remain the same. The registry must be electronically searchable and accessible to the public at no charge. It must be open to all registrants and not for profit. It must have a mechanism to ensure the validity of the registration data.

The purpose of a clinical trials registry is to promote the public good by ensuring that everyone can find key information about every clinical trial whose principal aim is to shape medical decision making. We will do what we can to help reach this goal. We urge all parties to register new and ongoing clinical trials. If in doubt about whether a trial is “clinically directive,” register it. Don't use meaningless phrases to describe key information. Every trial participant and every investigator should be asking, “Is this clinical trial fully registered?”

Catherine D. De Angelis, MD, MPH , Editor-in-Chief, JAMA

Jeffrey M. Drazen, MD , Editor-in-Chief, New England Journal of Medicine

Prof. Frank A. Frizelle, MB, ChB, MMedSc, FRACS , Editor, The New Zealand Medical Journal

Charlotte Haug, MD, PhD, MSc , Editor-in-Chief, Norwegian Medical Journal

John Hoey, MD , Editor, CMAJ

Richard Horton, FRCP , Editor, The Lancet

Sheldon Kotzin, MLS , Executive Editor, MEDLINE, National Library of Medicine

Christine Laine, MD, MPH , Senior Deputy Editor, Annals of Internal Medicine

Ana Marusic, MD, PhD , Editor, Croatian Medical Journal

A. John P.M. Overbeke, MD, PhD , Executive Editor, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (Dutch Journal of Medicine)

Torben V. Schroeder, MD, DMSc , Editor, Journal of the Danish Medical Association

Harold C. Sox, MD , Editor, Annals of Internal Medicine

Martin B. Van Der Weyden, MD , Editor, The Medical Journal of Australia


De Angelis C, Drazen JM, Frizelle FA, Haug C, Hoey J, Horton R. et al.  Clinical trial registration: a statement from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors [Editorial]. Ann Intern Med. 2004; 141:477-8. PubMed



Table Jump PlaceholderTable.  Minimal Registration Data Set


De Angelis C, Drazen JM, Frizelle FA, Haug C, Hoey J, Horton R. et al.  Clinical trial registration: a statement from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors [Editorial]. Ann Intern Med. 2004; 141:477-8. PubMed


Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).


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Institutunal Review Boards as Surrogate Registries
Posted on July 23, 2005
Stuart Oserman
Advocate Lutheran General Hospital
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Clinical trial registries are the future for clinical research. However, one must also address concerns regarding those current and past clinical trials which may carry the risks of data derived conclusions or have other uncertainties regarding the intended primary outcome. Perhaps Institutional Review Boards now ought to publish all of their archives. In my experience, IRB filings are typically quite thorough. While these documents will certainly not contain all 20 elements of the proposed Minimum Data Registration Set, they will potentially fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of certain research and also call our attention to trials which were most likely undertaken though never published.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Medical Meetings: Science or Sales?
Posted on July 22, 2005
Nikheel S Kolatkar
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

DeAngelis et. al. reviewed the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) joint policy advocating clinical trial registration (1). The policy, in addition to disclosure requirements regarding author contribution and conflict of interest, exemplify actions scientific journals are taking to promote integrity and transparency. Like the ICMJE, medical societies should establish guidelines covering presentations at their scientific meetings. As summarized by Dr. DeAngelis during the recent 87th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society (ENDO), the distinction between science and sales at medical meetings is becoming blurred (2). At ENDO (not including ancillary continuing medical education programs), 13% (1/8) of Plenary Sessions, 25% (17/69) of Scientific Symposia, 25% (19/72) of Meet-The-Professor sessions, were labeled as "supported" by a company (3). In each case, the sponsor sold a product, service, or diagnostic referenced during the presentation. Support of individual scientific presentations is analogous to sponsorship of individual journal articles and such presentations should be marked "advertisement" under Title 18, Section 1734 of the United States Code (4).


1. Is This Clinical Trial Fully Registered? A Statement From the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. DeAngelis CD, Drazen JM, Frizelle FA, Haug C, et. al. Ann Int Med 2005;143(2):146-148.

2. Issues in Publishing Clinical Trials "“ An Editor's Perspective. Oral presentation at the 87th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society, San Diego, California, June 4, 2005.

3. The 87th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society Final Program. The Endocrine Society. 2005.

4. http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title18/title18.html. Accessed on July 22, 2005.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

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