ClinicalTrials.gov is getting its first makeover in years! Follow along as we review what's new and exciting, and what falls short.
ClinicalTrials.gov is synonymous with clinical trial research for professionals in the US clinical trial ecosystem who don't have a clinical trial intelligence solution. For those who aren’t familiar, ClinicalTrials.gov is the FDA’s online registry of clinical studies which contains information on over 242,000 trials to date. It's like Google for clinical trial information, with the ability to search for fields such as condition, location, sponsors, phase and more. Each result that comes up is known as a trial record and clicking on one will take you to a page that contains all the public information about that trial.
The ClinicalTrials.gov research process hasn’t changed in years, and as useful as the tool is it is still limited by its need to review trial records one by one. However, ClinicalTrials.gov in the last few months has published a beta interface on their site, giving users a glimpse into a fresh new look and set of features for the service. Here’s what you need to know about it.
How to Access the ClinicalTrials.gov Beta
Go to www.ClinicalTrials.gov. On the homepage under the logo in the top left, you will see blue text with yellow highlight that reads “Try our beta test site”. Click on this. This will take you to an advanced search setup. Try entering “breast cancer” in the Condition field and “chemotherapy” in the Intervention field. Then click “Search Recruiting” or "Search All".
A New Look for the Trial Results Page
Below is the old results page with the new results page side-by-side.
On the old version, trial records and associated information appeared in list format. Now in the new version results appear in a table. Rank, Status, Study Title, Conditions, and Interventions are the default columns, but these can be adjusted.
In our example “breast cancer” appears in each cell within Conditions and chemotherapy appears in each Interventions cell.
You can show or hide up to 22 columns to in the search results table to quickly view more information about the results. These available columns include eligibility criteria like Age or Sex, and key dates such as First Received or Last Updated. While this functionality did exist in the old version, it wasn’t nearly as useful. Now that the show/hide feature relates to columns of a table instead of items in a list, there's a new way to review data, hence we're treating it as a new feature.
Users can view up to 100 results in a single table by selecting a number in the studies per page drop-down box.
Also, your search remains at the top of the screen and you can collapse it using a +/- symbol in the top left of the search tile. This is one way in which the new interface eliminates a step in search modification. The other way is with their filtering options.
New Filtering Options
On-page filtering is new to this version of ClincialTrials.gov, as seen by the filters pane on the left-hand side of the results page. In here you will find 37 options across 6 categories to refine your search. These categories are
- Study Status
- Eligibility Criteria
- Study Type
- Study Results
- Study Phase
- Funder Type
To see how these work try to apply different filters such as Phase 1 + Phase 2 then click "Apply".
Clear your selected filters at any time by clicking “clear”.
What Hasn’t Changed
What we’ve walked through in the above text is within the “list” tab of the results page. The options to view “By Topic”, “On Map” or “Search Details” tabs haven’t changed in functionality. The “By Topic” tab does match the updated look and feel but the behavior is the same.
We were quick to notice the mapping feature hasn’t been updated, which has a lot of potential but has the look and feel of something constructed 20 years ago.
That said, the public beta of the new ClinicalTrials.gov is just that: a beta. Perhaps when the full version is released more functionality and visuals will be added.
Implications and Improvements from this ClinicalTrials.gov Beta
- The default search button in the beta reads “search recruiting” implying that the updated user experience was designed with patients and physicians in mind over industry users.
- The table-style results page is much easier to understand, and quicker for retrieving patient-centric information like eligibility criteria.
- On-page filtering speeds up the research process by eliminating the need to go to a new page with each search modification.
- The overall initiative shows that the FDA and NIH are focusing more on how to leverage the massive amount of data on-hand to make clinical trial data more accessible to the public.
- It's mobile friendly
To give you an idea of the size of the CT.g database consider this: There are 22 available columns to show/hide in the results table. Think of each available column, such as eligible gender or phase, as an available datapoint for each trial. 22 datapoints for 242,000 trials means a single search query is reviewing up to 5,324,000 datapoints.
Limitations of Using ClinicalTrials.gov for Pharma Industry Research
Though the new beta shows ClincialTrials.gov is going to get a fresh look and feel along with some nice time-saving features, it still won’t do enough for industry power users. If retrieving pharma data is a frequent part of your job function, here are the areas you are still missing out:
While the new on-page filtering eliminates a step from modifying searches, it still requires a few clicks for each modified search. When applied to dozens or hundreds of searches over time, these clicks add time and tediousness to the process.
Compare to premium trial finding tools that have live filtering, meaning that the results in front of you change as you toggle filters on and off.
Like we mentioned above, the CT.g database contains over 5 million unique datapoints. This means there is opportunity for some Big Data style analysis.
Reviewing the information in tables is great, but interacting with visuals like heatmaps, timelines, and pie charts provides a lightning fast, more thorough, and more enjoyable experience.
Consider solutions where you are able to live-filter results by sponsors or trial sites locations across the globe on an interactive map that sits on the same screen as your results. This is a major limitation of CT.g over premium tools.
Exporting Additional Data
ClinicalTrials.gov offers users the ability to export data to CSV, XML, RSS, and a few other file types. This is a nice feature for power users – especially for those who know how to manipulate XML files. However, only the 22 columns available in the show/hide feature are available for export, and you’ll need to carry out multiple steps for exporting with each modified search.
Compare to our solution TrialFinder, that extrapolates additional fields such as associated contact information (name, email address, phone number), or approval date (ask one of our specialists why this is a big deal), where a modified search and export to excel spreadsheet can be completed in two clicks.
Overall we are thoroughly impressed with the new ClinicalTrials.gov beta, and acknowledge it’s a big step in the direction of making pharma data more accessible to the public. In a world dominated by technology that focuses on speed and user-friendliness our hats are off to the NIH and FDA who have grown ClinicalTrials.gov into the powerful tool that it is since its inception in 2000.