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Effect of a US National Institutes of Health programme of clinical trials on public health and costs.

By Johnston, S. C., et al.


Few attempts have been made to estimate the public return on investment in medical research. The total costs and benefits to society of a clinical trial, the final step in testing an intervention, can be estimated by evaluating the effect of trial results on medical care and health.

All phase III randomised trials funded by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke before Jan 1, 2000, were included. Pertinent publications on use, cost to society, and health effects for each studied intervention were identified by systematic review, supplemented with data from other public and proprietary sources. Regardless of whether a trial was positive or negative, information on use of tested therapies was integrated with published per-use data on costs and health effect (converted to 2004 US dollars) to generate 10-year projections for the US population.

28 trials with a total cost of 335 million dollars were included. Six trials (21%) resulted in measurable improvements in health, and four (14%) resulted in cost savings to society. At 10 years, the programme of trials resulted in an estimated additional 470,000 quality-adjusted life years at a total cost of 3.6 billion dollars (including costs of all trials and additional health-care and other expenditures). Valuing a quality-adjusted life year at per-head gross domestic product, the projected net benefit to society at 10-years was 15.2 billion dollars. 95% CIs did not include a net loss at 10 years.

For this institute, the public return on investment in clinical trials has been substantial. Although results led to increases in health-care expenditures, health gains were large and valuable.

Johnston, S. C., et al. (2006). “Effect of a US National Institutes of Health programme of clinical trials on public health and costs.” Lancet 367(9519): 1319-1327.