Trends and variation in data quality and availability on the European Union Clinical Trials Register: A cross-sectional study
DeVito NJ., Goldacre B.
Background/Aims: The European Union Clinical Trials Register is a public facing portal containing information on trials of medicinal products conducted under the purview of the European Union regulatory system. As of September 2021, the registry holds information on over 40,000 trials. Given its distinct regulatory purpose, and results reporting requirements, the European Union Clinical Trials Register should be a valuable open-source hub for trial information. Past work examining the European Union Clinical Trials Register has suggested that data quality on the registry may be lacking. We therefore set out to examine the quality and availability of trial data on the registry with a focus on areas that fall under the authority of regulators in each European Union/European Economic Area country. Methods: Using data scraped from the full European Union Clinical Trials Register public dataset, we examined the extent of issues with three areas of trial data availability linked to European Union regulations. We examined whether there is evidence for missing registration of protocols in the public database, whether information on the completion of clinical trials is being made available and how often the results of trials are posted to the registry. We assessed each area overall, and examined variation between national regulators and over time. Results: Major issues with the availability of expected protocols and information on trial completion were focused in a few countries. Overall, when comparing enrolment countries from tabular results to available registrations, 26,932 of 31,118 (86.5%) expected protocols were available and 22 of 30 (73%) countries had over 90% of expected protocols available. The majority of missing protocols, totalling 2764 (66%), were from just three countries: France, Norway and Poland. Evidence for this issue is further supported by data on trends in new registrations by country over time. Low availability of data on trial completion is also most pronounced in a minority of countries, like Spain and the Netherlands, with consistent trends for missingness over time. Finally, overall results availability is substantially worse among the 23,623 trials with a single registered European Union protocol (n = 6259, 26.5%) compared to 13,897 of those taking place in multiple countries (n = 8423, 60.6%). Reporting for single-protocol trials was consistently low across both time and location. Conclusion: Deficiencies in the public availability of trial protocols, trial completion information and summary results complicate the utility of the European Union Clinical Trials Register for research, transparency and accountability efforts. Users of the registry would benefit from a more complete and accurate accounting of the European research environment via the official European Union registry. We recommend regulators at the national and pan-national level undertake routine audits of approved trials to ensure national-level issues are proactively and transparently identified, documented and addressed.