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Clinical Trials Submitted to the JID: Place Your Bet and Show Us Your Hand

      Randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews of RCTs serve a pivotal role in informing evidence-based practice through guidelines and shared decision making (
      • Williams H.C.
      • Dellavalle R.P.
      The growth of clinical trials and systematic reviews in informing dermatological patient care.
      ). Although some innovations such as adaptive designs have emerged (
      • Kunz C.U.
      • Friede T.
      • Parsons N.
      • et al.
      A comparison of methods for treatment selection in seamless phase II/III clinical trials incorporating information on short-term endpoints.
      ;
      • Parmar M.K.
      • Carpenter J.
      • Sydes M.R.
      More multiarm randomised trials of superiority are needed.
      ), the basic design of a clinical trial has remained largely unchanged since the first trials of streptomycin for tuberculosis in 1948 (
      • Crofton J.
      The MRC randomized trial of streptomycin and its legacy: a view from the clinical front line.
      ), especially with regard to the fundamental methods designed to reduce bias. Thus, randomization that is truly random and concealed from investigators serves to reduce selection bias. Blinding the intervention and ensuring that each treatment group is followed up in the same way reduces performance bias. Assessing the outcome in a blinded fashion reduces detection bias, and analyzing all those that were originally randomized through an intention-to-treat principle minimizes attrition bias (
      ). Knowing how to critically appraise a clinical trial is a core competency for clinical dermatologists and scientists interested in evidence-based medicine (
      • Williams H.C.
      Evidence-based dermatology—everyone’s business.
      ).
      Here, we provide some useful tips on how to play your cards right when submitting your trials to this journal. Although the Journal of Investigative Dermatology does not publish many RCTs compared to some clinical dermatology journals (
      • Williams H.
      The outstanding record of clinical trials in the British Journal of Dermatology.
      ), our output has steadily increased (10 in the past five years compared with 6 in the five preceding years and two in the five years before that), and the JID has also published several systematic reviews dealing with methodological issues pertinent to designing good clinical trials (see, for example,
      • Do-Pham G.
      • Le Cleach L.
      • Giraudeau B.
      • et al.
      Designing randomized-controlled trials to improve head-louse treatment: systematic review using a vignette-based method.
      ). The RCTs that the JID does publish are well reported, thanks to our early adoption of the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors for prospective trial registration (
      • Williams H.C.
      • Stern R.S.
      Prospective trials registration.
      ), structured abstracts (
      • Williams H.C.
      • Bergstresser P.
      The case for structured abstracts.
      ), and complete reporting (
      • Williams H.C.
      • Goldsmith L.
      The JID opens its doors to high-quality randomized controlled clinical trials.
      ) according to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials Statement (CONSORT) (http://www.consort-statement.org). These principles can seem to be annoying obstacles, so it is worth revisiting their purpose through analogies to the basic rules of playing cards (Figure 1).
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1The three rules for clinical trials submitted to the JID. (Left) Place your bet. (Center) Show us your hand. (Right) Make it a good hand. Special thanks to Kim Thomas, Esther Burden-Teh, and Katrina Abuabara for demonstrating their gambling skills.

      Rule 1: place your bet

      Sadly, despite the potential of clinical trials to minimize bias, history is replete with examples of distortion of the scientific record (
      • Chalmers I.
      • Glasziou P.
      Avoidable waste in the production and reporting of research evidence.
      ;
      • Goldacre B.
      ). A particular source of bias that besets clinical trials—and any experimental investigation, for that matter—is selective highlighting of results that look good and downplaying or not reporting those that look unimpressive (
      • Chan A.W.
      • Altman D.G.
      Identifying outcome reporting bias in randomised trials on PubMed: review of publications and survey of authors.
      ). It was previously easy to get away with such selective reporting outcome bias because only the investigators knew what their original plan and primary outcome or definition of “success” were. This problem has been unearthed in all branches of medicine and surgery, including dermatology. In a survey of 109 RCTs of atopic dermatitis treatment identified through the Global Resource of Eczema Trials (GREAT), only 34 had been registered on an approved register, and only 19 of these had been registered properly, that is, before recruitment starts and by declaring their main success criteria beforehand (
      • Nankervis H.
      • Baibergenova A.
      • Williams H.C.
      • et al.
      Prospective registration and outcome-reporting bias in randomized controlled trials of eczema treatments: a systematic review.
      ). Only 5 of the 109 RCTs provided enough information to allow confidence that the main reported findings were consistent with the original registration. Prospective trial registration overcomes the problem of selective reporting outcome bias quickly and easily. Prospective means prospective. Specifically, you must register your trial and “place your bet” on one of the recognized trial registers before recruitment starts, not when submitting your trial report.

      Rule 2: show us your hand

      If you were buying a used car, you would not contemplate a purchase without inspecting the service record and viewing all the essential items such as applicable taxes, proof of roadworthiness, and ownership history (
      • Williams H.C.
      Cars, CONSORT 2010 and clinical practice.
      ). In the same way, you should not “buy” the results of a trial unless all of the essential basic items are reported. Complete reporting does not necessarily mean good quality, but it is difficult to say anything about study quality without seeing exactly what was done to whom and how. Not only does full reporting permit judgment of study quality and how the results might apply to the sorts of patients seen in everyday clinical care, but it also permits inclusion of that study in a systematic review of all relevant evidence. All trials have a second life in such systematic reviews. Systematic reviews of RCTs and appropriate meta-analysis of those trials are often considered the most informative study type in the evidence-based hierarchy of effectiveness studies, yet missing essential information, such as description of the intervention, participants, control group, and outcomes, frequently hampers the efforts of those who produce systematic reviews such as those in the International Cochrane Collaboration (http://www.thecochranelibrary.com). Thankfully, the CONSORT statement and its various extensions for pragmatic, noninferiority, and cluster trials offer a simple checklist for authors to which the JID adheres.

      Rule 3: make it a good hand

      Although the JID encourages submission of clinical trials that are prospectively registered and fully reported, competition to publish in our journal means that they also must be something special. Small, early, inconclusive proof-of-principle trials are less attractive to the JID unless they unlock some key insights into mechanisms of diseases. Such clinical trials must be truly translational in the way that they are integral to any mechanistic study (see, for example,
      • Papp K.A.
      • Reid C.
      • Foley P.
      • et al.
      Anti-IL-17 receptor antibody AMG 827 leads to rapid clinical response in subjects with moderate to severe psoriasis: results from a phase I, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
      ), rather than stuck in as an afterthought to pad out a submission. Clinical trials with built-in mechanistic components defining which patient groups respond best to treatment fit in very well with our journal’s theme of “Progress in Translational Research” for 2015. Not all JID trials need to elucidate mechanisms, however. Definitive phase III studies that are likely to change clinical practice or are newsworthy in some other respect are also welcome (see, for example,
      • Joly P.
      • Roujeau J.C.
      • Benichou J.
      • et al.
      A comparison of two regimens of topical corticosteroids in the treatment of patients with bullous pemphigoid: a multicenter randomized study.
      ). Clinical trials evaluating commonly used treatments in which for-profit organizations have little interest, such as a head-to-head comparison of prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil for pemphigus vulgaris, are also welcome (see, for example,
      • Beissert S.
      • Mimouni D.
      • Kanwar A.J.
      • et al.
      Treating pemphigus vulgaris with prednisone and mycophenolate mofetil: a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
      ). Such trials need not have a “positive” outcome; demonstrating equivalence or noninferiority in a planned way by estimating likely treatment effects using confidence intervals can be just as informative.

      Conclusion

      Comparing clinical trials to gambling with cards may sound superficial, yet placing a bet is exactly what happens when testing a hypothesis, and declaring the results fully and honestly is what every good trialist should do. Undertaking a clinical trial is a serious professional business that relies on the altruistic donation of time and informed risk from patient volunteers. Clinical trials are set to remain a backbone of experimental design to inform insights into the causes, mechanisms, and treatment of skin diseases. We welcome their inclusion in this journal.

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