In a world first, a clinical trial transparency audit of two major UK research institutions has been made publicly available. The study, published in BMJ Openlooked at the clinical trial registration and reporting performance of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), and the Oxford Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), who together received over £160m of public funds from the National Institute of Health Research since 2007.

Routine ongoing audit has been suggested as a simple way for institutions and research funders to monitor and improve their performance in registering and publishing trials.

The audit identified 286 clinical trials supported by the BRC and/or BRU, with over 217,000 participants worldwide.  It found all active clinical trials were registered, although 4 completed trials had been published but not registered. The majority of completed trials were eventually published, but not all within 12 or even 24 months of completion.

Importantly, based on the audit findings, the audit team and BRC/BRU Directors were able to produce a set of recommendations to improve the transparency and encourage timely publication, and have committed to making these improvements.

Carl Heneghan, Professor and Director of Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, co-founder of the AllTrials campaign and an author of the study said:

“Oxford’s willingness to audit its clinical trial publication performance represents a significant transparency initiative that should be replicated by other institutions. There are many factors that prevent timely publication, but undertaking self-audits provides a mechanism to improve accountability and find simple solutions to reduce publication bias. Importantly, it also ensures that all those who participate in research have their findings disseminated in full.

“Funders should ask questions about how their funds are best spent and look to incentivise institutions that undertake self-audits and provide mechanisms to reduce delays in their publication record.”

Ben Goldacre, author, co-founder of the AllTrials campaign and an author of the study said:

“It is testament to the integrity of the research units audited here that they were keen to collaborate on an audit of their publication performance. I hope that others around the world will join Oxford, and use the audit tools we have produced, and shared, with this paper. Nobody can achieve perfection, anywhere in medicine, but audit is one of the most basic and powerful tools we can use, to try.”