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Clinical trials: why multi-arms are better than two

iStock_000003015933SmallIn their quest to speed up the discovery of new treatments for patient benefit, MRC researchers at the MRC Clinical Trials Unit propose an efficient solution: the multi-arm clinical trial. But how do these trials work and why should the traditional two-arm clinical trial be the exception and not the rule? We asked Annabelle South, Policy, Communications & Research Impact Coordinator at the MRC Clinical Trials Unit, to explain this change in approach, as published in The Lancet.

Randomised controlled trials are the best way of finding out if new treatments are better than the current standard treatment. But trials take a long time to set up and run, and can be expensive.

Here at the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL we are keen to find faster and more efficient ways of working out which treatments work best, so patients can benefit sooner. That’s why we are urging researchers and drugs companies to move away from the traditional ‘two-arm’ approach to trials, and adopt more innovative, efficient approaches like the multi-arm trial.

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Bedsheets, boats and biology: James Lovelock and the MRC

Think James Lovelock, and most people think about Gaia theory, his idea that the Earth is a self-regulating system that keeps the conditions for life in a delicate equilibrium. But for 20 years Lovelock was a scientist at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, studying a wide range of areas from preventing burns to freezing tissues. Katherine Nightingale went to a Science Museum exhibition about his life and work to find out more from its curator Alex Johnson.

Lovelock (left) with two of his NIMR colleagues, Owen Lidwell (centre) and Robert Bourdillon (Image copyright: Science Museum, courtesy of James Lovelock*)

Lovelock (left) with two of his NIMR colleagues, Owen Lidwell (centre) and Robert Bourdillon (Image copyright: Science Museum, courtesy of James Lovelock*)

Much is made of James Lovelock’s decades as an independent scientist and inventor in a shed at the bottom of his garden. His thirst for scientific freedom and invention is well known ― even his adolescent short stories feature protagonists who just want to be left alone to pursue their own ideas.

Funny then, that Lovelock himself says that some of his most creative work was done while part of a large institution, the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, between 1941 and 1961.

He has been known to refer to his time at the NIMR as an extended apprenticeship, working in various research divisions across the institute, and being encouraged to solve his own problems and create his own equipment. Read more