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NIH funding fewer clinical trials, Johns Hopkins study shows

The National Institutes of Health has been funding fewer clinical trials in recent years, according to new Johns Hopkins University research.

Such studies, necessary for government approval of new treatments, are conducted on humans to test the safety and effectiveness of medicines and other therapies before approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stamp.

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From 2005 to 2015, the number of trials funded annually fell to 930 from 1,580, a drop of more than 40 percent, found the Hopkins review published in the journal Clinical Trials.

The review also found that the average trial sizes were smaller. In 10-year’s worth of trials, only 10 percent enrolled more than 500 participants, signifying a large, quality study. The median size was 64, with half in the treatment group and half in the control group. There also were fewer that randomized the participants into groups, potentially jeopardizing the significance of a trial’s findings.

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The researchers from the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said the declines could potentially threaten an aspect of the NIH’s mission. The agency is a key impartial backer of promising treatments, some without the commercial potential to get industry funding.

The researchers suggest the drop is due to the budget, which was $30 billion in fiscal 2015, slightly more than in 2005, but representing about a 20 percent drop when inflation is considered.

The researchers looked at 12,987 NIH-funded clinical trials registered at clinicaltrials.gov, the publicly available database maintained by the agency.

The National Cancer Institute, within NIH, had the most trials.

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