Ethics & Human Research
Ethics of Adaptive Designs for Randomized Controlled Trials
ABSTRACT Over recent decades, adaptive trial designs have been used more and more often for clinical trials, including randomized controlled trials (RCTs). This rise in the use of adaptive RCTs has been accompanied by debates about whether such trials offer ethical and methodological advantages over traditional, fixed RCTs. This study examined how experts on clinical trial methods and ethics believe that adaptive RCTs, compared to fixed ones, affect the ethical character of clinical research. We conducted in-depth interviews with 17 researchers from bioethics, epidemiology, biostatistics, and/or medical backgrounds. While about half believed that adaptive trials are more complex and may thus threaten autonomy, these respondents also expressed that this challenge is not insurmountable. Most respondents expressed that efficiency and potential for participant benefit were the main justifications for adaptive trials. There was tension about whether adaptive randomization in response to increasing information disrupts clinical equipoise, with some respondents insisting that uncertainty still exists and therefore clinical equipoise is not disrupted. These findings suggest that further discussion is needed to increase the awareness and utility of these study designs.