Clinical trials establish whether a new treatment really does work better than a placebo (dummy) treatment – and if it has any dangerous side-effects.
Clinical trials have different phases: initially, the drug is tested in small numbers of people to make sure that it is safe, before it is tested in hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of patients.
This testing in large numbers is absolutely critical: reports of a good result in one or two patients do not necessarily mean that a therapy will be safe and effective for everyone.
The process can take up to 10 years and cost millions of pounds. But, if a drug successfully completes all the phases of clinical-trial testing, health regulators and doctors can be confident that a new treatment is safe and has been proved to help the people who need it.
How to take part in a clinical trial
For up-to-date information on clinical trials in the UK – and why they are so important – please visit the UK Clinical Trials Gateway.
If you're interested in taking part in an international clinical trial, taking place outside the UK, please use the World Health Organisation's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform on the NHS Choices website.
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