#18 Practical RWE – Study Start-up


Study start-up activities for non-interventional studies and clinical trials involve different focuses and regulatory requirements due to the distinct nature of each study type. Non-interventional studies (observational studies) and clinical trials (interventional studies) differ fundamentally in their objectives, methodologies, and the extent of regulatory oversight. Below are key differences in their start-up activities:

  1. Design and Protocol Development

– Clinical Trials: Focuses on creating a detailed protocol that outlines the study’s objective, methodology, statistical considerations, and organization. This includes the selection of the intervention, control/comparator groups, randomisation, and specific endpoints to be measured. The protocol must meet rigorous regulatory standards for ethics and patient safety.

– Non-Interventional Studies: The design focuses on observing outcomes in real life settings without healthcare interventions. The protocol outlines objectives, study population, data sources, and methods of data collection and analysis but is generally less stringent than for clinical trials.

  1. Regulatory and Ethical Approvals

– Clinical Trials: Require extensive (risk proportionate) regulatory and ethical approvals before starting, including the submission of a clinical trial application to regulatory authorities (e.g., US FDA and EU EMA) and approval from Reseearch Ethics Committees (RECs). Although extensive, the approval requirements have , to a certain extent, been harmonised globally, helping to reduce duplication of effort.

– Non-Interventional Studies: Typically involve less stringent regulatory requirements i.e., most countries do not require submission to a regulatory authority (e.g., EMA or FDA) unless the study is a post-marketing requirement.  However, the specific approval requirements differ in every country meaning that, although the individual submission requirement may be simple, the management of differing submission requirements in multiple countries can be time-consuming and complex.

  1. Site Selection and Feasibility

– Clinical Trials: Site selection is critical, with a focus on sites’ ability to recruit suitable participants, their experience with similar studies, and their infrastructure to manage the investigational product safely. Feasibility assessments are comprehensive, evaluating patient population, investigator qualifications, and facility capabilities.

– Non-Interventional Studies: Site selection focuses more on the availability of the drug in the country and site of interest i.e., has the drug been approved and is it being prescribed?

Secondary to this is whether the site has the time, resources, qualification, and experience to conduct the study.

In conclusion, although both types of studies play a crucial role in medical research advancement, the initial processes and hurdles for clinical trials and non-interventional studies can vary greatly. Contrary to common assumptions, the varied start-up demands for non-interventional studies across different countries can lead to a higher workload during the initiation phase for non-interventional studies spanning multiple countries compared to clinical trials.

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