Clinical Trials for Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs

Patient Expert

Participating in a clinical trial may be an option for people with RA who haven't been able to find a medication that works for them.

What Is a Clinical Trial?

The process of developing new medications involves a number of experiments in different phases. When the medication has been fine-tuned to a point when scientists believe it is safe and will work for human beings, the process moves into a clinical trial.

A clinical trial is a study or experiment that compares how well the drug works in human beings with a particular condition, for instance RA, compared to a placebo. A placebo is a substance that has no medically effective properties, such as a sugar pill or a saline solution.

People who sign up to participate in this kind of study will be randomly placed in either the experimental group, which receives the medication, or the control group, which receives the placebo. Most often, these types of studies are double-blind, which means neither the participants nor the researchers know which people are in which group. This is the best way to ensure an objective result.

Once the study period is over, which could take months or years, the researchers will analyze the results. If the medication is proven to be effective, it will go through an approval process with the FDA and become available to the public. If it wasn't effective, the researchers will need to do more work.

Participating in a Clinical Trial

Enrolling in a clinical trial is not as simple as finding one (see below) and signing up. Each clinical trial has a set of eligibility criteria that participants have to meet. They vary from study to study, but can include such factors as age, gender, the presence (or absence) of other medical conditions, and how long you've had RA.

Signing up for a clinical trial has two benefits. First, you may be assigned to the experimental group and receive a medication that might work for you. Second, by participating in testing a new medication, you will be part of creating more and better options for RA treatment. This has the potential for improving the lives of many.

Volunteering for this type of study also has some potential drawbacks. There are no guarantees that you will receive the drug that is being tested. You may be assigned to the control group, spending months receiving a placebo while your disease progresses. Even if you do receive the drug that's being investigated, you may experience side effects, which have the potential for being severe. Before you officially become part of a study, the researchers will go through the potential risks and benefits with you so you have full informed consent.

You should also be aware that participating in a clinical trial is usually on a volunteer basis, that is, unpaid. You may be reimbursed for expenses, such as mileage and parking, and occasionally some studies will also offer an honorarium. Information about this will also be part of the orientation to the study.

How to Find a Clinical Trial

There are several ways of finding a clinical trial in your area. You can ask your doctor. They are plugged into a network of rheumatologists and may be able to connect you with someone who is starting a study.

The Internet is also a wonderful resource, allowing you to search without leaving the comfort of your home. ClinicalTrials.gov is a service provided by the US National Institutes of Health. On the site, you can search for clinical trials by condition and area, enabling you to find a study where you live. The site also has detailed information explaining clinical studies to the layperson.   The FDA website also has a function to search for clinical trials. As well, Healthline has a tool that enables you to look for RA clinical trials by area. If you find a study, discuss the pros and cons of you participating with your rheumatologist.

Have you ever been part of a clinical trial?

See More Helpful Articles:

Basics of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Newly Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Remission in RA: An Interview with Dr. Yusuf Yazici

A Beginner's Guide to RA: Biologics

Clinical Trials: Ethical Issues?

Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She's the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.