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Ethics & Human Research

Deprioritization of Ongoing Clinical Trials

ABSTRACT To be ethical, clinical trials must exhibit a favorable risk-benefit balance at the time of their initiation. However, in some cases, the expected value of a study decreases while the study is ongoing, due to developments outside of the study itself, such as findings from other studies or an otherwise shifting evidence base. While such situations are acknowledged in the research community, they have not received sufficient attention, given the high costs of uninformative studies, both in material and human capital. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed serious shortcomings with current approaches to monitoring studies for continued relevance and value. In this article, with reference to a case study from the Covid-19 pandemic, we identify and describe the importance and challenge of ensuring that clinical trials continue to exhibit scientific relevance and value once initiated. We explore the ethical dynamics of these situations and identify unresolved issues. While more empirical work is needed to ensure that proposed solutions to the issues are evidence based, we offer some provisional considerations that amount to a framework for approaching these challenging situations.

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