Designing and executing a clinical trial that meets scientific and marketing requirements can be a tall order. Lots of variable exist, and often a meaningful clinical study result is a moving target. So study design requires significant expertise in the therapeutic area, and an understanding of market dynamics.
Here are four main questions to ask.
1.) What are the rationale and central questions to the study? There are a number of questions that need answers, but in general, clinical studies should start with one or two central questions, and a reason for why the material should be studied. This results in the development of primary and secondary endpoints. Are you trying to see whether a nutritional product can improve joint pain in baby boomers, or muscle pain in athletes? Because the study design may be completely different for what may appear to be very similar studies.
How the product will be perceived by the market post-study is also important. What study endpoints will allow for solid marketing claims? If your product has a significant effect in the study, will it help to differentiate your product against the leaders in the category? In the drug industry, studies on new products are compared against the “standard of care,” and the approach for supplement clinicals can take the same approach, particularly if the product is not very well differentiated in other ways. Are there new mechanisms of action or emerging markers that can be added as secondary endpoints, which would help to differentiate your product?
Accumulation of data to support safety and global regulatory acceptance such as GRAS determinations should always be an objective, so any efficacy study is also a great opportunity to inexpensively accumulate safety data.
2.) What is the dose? Often, this is the most challenging and critical question across all drug and nutrition clinical studies. For many products that are complex mixtures of active compounds, pharmacokinetics or bioavailability is unknown or untenable, making dosing a wild guess. In cases where there are only a couple active compounds, bioavailability should be assessed before moving on to clinical efficacy trials.
In cases where bioavailability cannot be easily determined, a dose-response study (using multiple doses) should be performed. Ideally, a dose-response study observes a small effect at a lower dose, and a greater effect at a higher dose. In other cases, a linear dose-response relationship should not be assumed; a higher dose may not work as well (or reveal safety issues) compared to a lower dose.
Market considerations, such as cost per day and number of capsules should also be included in this evaluation. While a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial is wonderful to have, if the product never reaches the shelf (or the dose is too high for the consumer to stomach) then the best-designed study is like a tree falling in the woods.
Tomorrow, I’ll reveal the last two questions you need to ask. So don’t put on your lab coats quite yet.