What are the six phases of clinical trials?

Each phase is designed to answer certain questions. Answering these questions, while giving as few people as possible an unknown treatment, often requires several clinical trials in different “phases”. Each phase is designed to answer certain questions while keeping the people involved as safe as possible. The results of these phases show whether the new drug or treatment is reasonably safe and effective.

Clinical trials are usually conducted in phases that complement each other. Knowing the phase of the clinical trial is important because it can give you an idea of how much is known about the treatment being studied. Participating in each phase of a clinical trial has benefits and risks. Clinical trials follow a typical series, from initial, small-scale, phase 1 studies to large-scale, late-stage phase 3 studies.

Phase 1 studies are closely monitored and collect information about how a drug interacts with the human body. Researchers adjust dosing schedules based on animal data to find out how much drug the body can tolerate and what its acute side effects are. As the phase 1 trial continues, researchers answer research questions related to how it works in the body, the side effects associated with increasing the dose, and early information on the effectiveness of drug administration in limiting risks and maximizing potential benefits. This is important for the design of phase 2 studies.

Phase 3 studies provide most safety data. In previous studies, less common side effects may not have been detected. Because these studies are longer and longer lasting, results are more likely to show rare or long-term side effects. Phase I clinical trials test if drugs are safe for use in humans.

Usually, these trials are small: they enroll approximately 20 to 100 volunteers. Some phase I clinical trials only look for healthy volunteers, who can be compensated for participating. Others accept those with the condition being targeted by the medication. While the medicine may help relieve symptoms, the goal of a phase I trial is to demonstrate the safety, but not necessarily the effectiveness of the drug or device.

This testing phase can last from several months to a year. Phase II clinical trials test both the safety and effectiveness of a drug or medical device. Trials at this stage can last from several months to a few years, and recruit up to several hundred patients with the disease to participate. Many phase II clinical trials are randomized, meaning that one group of participants receives the study drug, while the other group receives a placebo or an existing standard treatment.

Other phase II studies are blind, meaning that neither researchers nor participants know who received the study drug. Phase III clinical trials are usually the largest; these trials test possible treatment in hundreds or thousands of people in a randomized blind study. This testing phase can last several years, as the FDA collects comprehensive data on the drug's effectiveness and possible side effects. In the United States, drugs and medical devices cannot reach patients without approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Each potential new treatment must go through several phases of clinical trials that test the safety and effectiveness of treatments. Clinical trials can also help researchers discover which medical approaches work best for certain groups of people. This stage enrolls only a few volunteers, who are given only 1% of the dose of the drug being investigated. Phase 0 trials take no more than seven days.

Because this is usually the first time the drug has been tested in humans in research, it is the highest-risk clinical trial in which one participates. For that reason, phase 1 trials are also the most common paid clinical trials. Different phases have different risks and associated benefits. For example, a Phase 1 trial is the most likely to offer financial compensation, but it also has the highest risk because there will be little or no human testing before the trial.

Phase 1 and 2 trials may also take less time, because they tend to be shorter. The duration of the test will most likely appear on the test information page. If you're talking to the study team, get as much information as you can about the time spent participating to make sure it fits your schedule. A phase II clinical trial tells doctors how safe treatment is and how well it works.

Doctors also evaluate whether a new treatment works for a specific cancer. They may measure the tumor, take blood samples, or check how well you can do certain activities. Or you can keep track of your daily activities and symptoms. These are all ways to know how well the treatment works.

Before approval by the health authority, any treatment (vaccine, drug, medical device or procedure) must go through 4 phases of clinical trials. Each phase evaluates the safety of treatment, its effectiveness, the amount (dose) and side effects. Participation in clinical trials is voluntary. As the developers design the clinical trial, they will consider what they want to achieve for each of the different phases of clinical research and begin the process of researching new drugs (IND), a process they must go through before clinical research begins.

Ensuring that all steps are taken helps protect patients and provides accurate results on what the clinical trial is testing. Only through clinical trials can new drugs, treatments and devices be approved for public use. Phase 4 trials are conducted once the drug or device has been approved by the FDA during post-marketing safety monitoring. Once approved, researchers, pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies can begin enrolling volunteers in a phase I trial.

In addition, there may be mandatory or optional phase 4 post-marketing clinical trials to learn more about risks, benefits and long-term effects, or to test the product in special patient populations. This is called “drug reuse” and sometimes this can shorten the clinical trial or allow acceleration to phase 2 clinical trials, because the phase 1 safety profile was already tested in the previous clinical trial. Doctors conduct a phase I clinical trial to find out if a new drug, treatment, or combination of treatments is safe for people. But does this mean that sufferers are more likely to live longer? Are there rare side effects that have not yet been observed or side effects that only appear after a person has taken the medication for a long time? Answering these types of questions can take many more years and are often addressed in phase IV clinical trials.

Before a clinical trial begins, researchers review previous information about the drug to develop research questions and objectives. Phase III clinical trials compare the safety and effectiveness of the new treatment with the current standard treatment. Before an intervention reaches any stage of a clinical trial, scientists research ideas in what is called the discovery phase. Although phase 0 studies are conducted in humans, this type of study is not like the other phases of clinical trials.

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Bernice Gerchak
Bernice Gerchak

Friendly tv buff. Freelance pop culture maven. Devoted pop culture junkie. Infuriatingly humble twitter geek. Passionate travelaholic. Amateur travel aficionado.

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