A recent study looking at publication rates from one major UK funder of clinical trials found a 98% success rate. This is a remarkable figure, considering the best available evidence tells us about half of clinical trials are never published. So what’s the secret to this near perfect publication ratio?
The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme funds research on the effectiveness of various healthcare treatments. Researchers at the University of Southampton looked at almost 700 clinical trials funded by the NIHR HTA programme and found that results from 94% of studies commissioned before 2002 were published in the HTA journal. That figure rises to 98% when looking at studies after 2002. Dr Peter Davidson, the Director of HTA at the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre spoke to us about how the wider role of the research funding organisation can help studies through to publication: “We strongly believe that we have a fundamental duty to get research into the public domain and as a funder we take this obligation very seriously”.
Professor Ruairidh Milne, a co-author of the study and head of the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre gave us his opinion of these extraordinary results: “From the moment of funding, the research team are fully aware of what is expected of them. There is a culture of expectation that the results of all HTA-funded projects (trials and other studies) should be published in the HTA journal.”
It also helps that the research teams have a journal specifically related to the funder, in which they can publish results in full, a so-called monograph. There is also the contributing factor that 10% of the funding is held back until publication, but according to Dr Davidson this probably doesn’t have a huge impact on pushing up publication rates. The money goes to the institution rather than the research group directly and it’s just a part of the wider ethic of responsibility engrained in the HTA programme.