Background: We assessed the prevalence, and potential impact of, trials of pharmacological agents for acute stroke that were completed but not published in full. Failure to publish trial data is to be deprecated as it sets aside the altruism of participants’ consent to be exposed to the risks of experimental interventions, potentially biases the assessment of the effects of therapies, and may lead to premature discontinuation of research into promising treatments.
Methods: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group’s Specialised Register of Trials in June 2008 for completed trials of pharmacological interventions for acute ischaemic stroke, and searched MEDLINE and EMBASE (January 2007 – March 2009) for references to recent full publications. We assessed trial completion status from trial reports, online trials registers and correspondence with experts.
Results: We identified 940 trials. Of these, 125 (19.6%, 95% confidence interval 16.5-22.6) were completed but not published in full by the point prevalence date. They included 16,058 participants (16 trials had over 300 participants each) and tested 89 different interventions. Twenty-two trials with a total of 4,251 participants reported the number of deaths. In these trials, 636/4251 (15.0%) died.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that, at the point prevalence date, a substantial body of evidence that was of relevance both to clinical practice in acute stroke and future research in the field was not published in full. Over 16,000 patients had given informed consent and were exposed to the risks of therapy. Responsibility for non-publication lies with investigators, but pharmaceutical companies, research ethics committees, journals and governments can all encourage the timely publication of trial data.