Optimising recruitment in clinical trials for progressive multiple sclerosis: observational analysis from the MS-SMART and MS-STAT2 randomised controlled trials

Thomas Williams, Sarah Alexander, James Blackstone, Floriana De Angelis, Nevin John, Anisha Doshi, Judy Beveridge, Marie Braisher, Emma Gray, Jeremy Chataway, on behalf of the MS-SMART and MS-STAT2 Investigators

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BACKGROUND: Slower than planned recruitment is a major factor contributing to the delay or failure of randomised controlled trials to report on time. There is a limited evidence base regarding the optimisation of recruitment strategies. Here we performed an observational review of our experience in recruitment for two large randomised controlled trials for people with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. We aimed to explicitly determine those factors which can facilitate trial recruitment in progressive neurodegenerative disease. METHODS: Recruitment data from the sequential MS-SMART [NCT01910259] and MS-STAT2 [NCT03387670] UK randomised controlled trials was reviewed from the largest recruiting site, University College London (UCL). The trial population was similar which allowed comparison over the two recruitment periods of 2015-2016 and 2018-2021. This included sources of referral, progress through stages of recruitment, reasons for participant ineligibility and the impact of publicity events upon recruitment. RESULTS: In MS-SMART, 18% of patients contacted were enrolled, compared to 27% for MS-STAT2. Online registration of interest portals provided the greatest number of referrals (76% in MS-SMART, and 51% in MS-STAT2), with publicity in national media outlets producing a demonstrable increase in the number of potential participants. The introduction of an online self-screening questionnaire for MS-STAT2 resulted in 67% of potential participants (3080 of 4605) automatically determining their own ineligibility. In both studies, however, around 60% of those directly telephoned to discuss the study were not eligible, with difficulties related to travel to trial visits, or excluded medication, being the most common issues. Eighty-four percent of those deemed potentially eligible following telephone calls were enrolled in the MS-STAT2 study, compared to only 55% for MS-SMART. CONCLUSIONS: Through a detailed review of recruiting participants at the largest centre into two large randomised controlled trials with similar entry criteria, we have identified a number of approaches that may improve recruitment efficiency. We highlight here the importance of mandatory online self-screening questionnaires, a coordinated publicity campaign, and simple interventions such as eligibility checklists and appointment reminders. Recruitment approaches should be further assessed through a studies within a trial (SWAT) design. TRIAL REGISTRATION: MS-SMART: NCT01910259 ; registered July 2013 and MS-STAT2: NCT03387670 ; registered Jan 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number644
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical trials
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Recruitment

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