Phase I Clinical Trials
Phase I trials are the first stage of testing in human subjects. Normally, a small (20-50) group of healthy volunteers will be selected. This phase includes trials designed to assess the safety (pharmacovigilance), tolerability, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics of a drug. These trials are often conducted in an inpatient clinic, where the subject can be observed by full-time staff. The subject who receives the drug is usually observed until several half-lives of the drug have passed. Phase I trials also normally include dose-ranging, also called dose escalation, studies so that the appropriate dose for therapeutic use can be found. The tested range of doses will usually be a fraction of the dose that causes harm in animal testing. Phase I trials most often include healthy volunteers. However, there are some circumstances when real patients are used, such as patients who have terminal cancer or HIV and lack other treatment options. Volunteers are paid an inconvenience fee for their time spent in the volunteer centre. Pay for participation ranges from a small amount of money for a short period of residence, to a larger amount of up to approx $6000 depending on length of participation.
There are different kinds of Phase I trials:
Single Ascending Dose studies are those in which small groups of subjects are given a single dose of the drug while they are observed and tested for a period of time. If they do not exhibit any adverse side effects, and the pharmacokinetic data is roughly in line with predicted safe values, the dose is escalated, and a new group of subjects is then given a higher dose. This is continued until pre-calculated pharmacokinetic safety levels are reached, or intolerable side effects start showing up (at which point the drug is said to have reached the Maximum tolerated dose (MTD).
Multiple Ascending Dose studies are conducted to better understand the pharmacokinetics & pharmacodynamics of multiple doses of the drug. In these studies, a group of patients receives multiple low doses of the drug, while samples (of blood, and other fluids) are collected at various time points and analyzed to understand how the drug is processed within the body. The dose is subsequently escalated for further groups, up to a predetermined level.
A short trial designed to investigate any differences in absorption of the drug by the body, caused by eating before the drug is given. These studies are usually run as a crossover study, with volunteers being given two identical doses of the drug on different occasions; one while fasted, and one after being fed.
Phase II Clinical Trials
Once the initial safety of the study drug has been confirmed in Phase I trials, Phase II trials are performed on larger groups (20-300) and are designed to assess how well the drug works, as well as to continue Phase I safety assessments in a larger group of volunteers and patients. When the development process for a new drug fails, this usually occurs during Phase II trials when the drug is discovered not to work as planned, or to have toxic effects.
Phase II studies are sometimes divided into Phase IIA and Phase IIB.
- Phase IIA is specifically designed to assess dosing requirements (how much drug should be given).
- Phase IIB is specifically designed to study efficacy (how well the drug works at the prescribed dose(s)).
Some trials combine Phase I and Phase II, and test both efficacy and toxicity.
Some Phase II trials are designed as case series, demonstrating a drug’s safety and activity in a selected group of patients. Other Phase II trials are designed as randomized clinical trials, where some patients receive the drug/device and others receive placebo/standard treatment. Randomized Phase II trials have far fewer patients than randomized Phase III trials.
Phase III Clinical Trials
Phase III studies are randomized controlled multicenter trials on large patient groups (300–3,000 or more depending upon the disease/medical condition studied) and are aimed at being the definitive assessment of how effective the drug is, in comparison with current ‘gold standard’ treatment. Because of their size and comparatively long duration, Phase III trials are the most expensive, time-consuming and difficult trials to design and run, especially in therapies for chronic medical conditions.
It is common practice that certain Phase III trials will continue while the regulatory submission is pending at the appropriate regulatory agency. This allows patients to continue to receive possibly lifesaving drugs until the drug can be obtained by purchase. Other reasons for performing trials at this stage include attempts by the sponsor at “label expansion” (to show the drug works for additional types of patients/diseases beyond the original use for which the drug was approved for marketing), to obtain additional safety data, or to support marketing claims for the drug. Studies in this phase are by some companies categorized as “Phase IIIB studies.”
While not required in all cases, it is typically expected that there be at least two successful Phase III trials, demonstrating a drug’s safety and efficacy, in order to obtain approval from the appropriate regulatory agencies such as FDA (USA), or the EMEA (European Union), for example.
Once a drug has proved satisfactory after Phase III trials, the trial results are usually combined into a large document containing a comprehensive description of the methods and results of human and animal studies, manufacturing procedures, formulation details, and shelf life. This collection of information makes up the “regulatory submission” that is provided for review to the appropriate regulatory authorities in different countries. They will review the submission, and, it is hoped, give the sponsor approval to market the drug.
Most drugs undergoing Phase III clinical trials can be marketed under FDA norms with proper recommendations and guidelines, but in case of any adverse effects being reported anywhere, the drugs need to be recalled immediately from the market. While most pharmaceutical companies refrain from this practice, it is not abnormal to see many drugs undergoing Phase III clinical trials in the market.
Phase IV Clinical Trials
Phase IV trial is also known as Post Marketing Surveillance Trial. Phase IV trials involve the safety surveillance (pharmacovigilance) and ongoing technical support of a drug after it receives permission to be sold. Phase IV studies may be required by regulatory authorities or may be undertaken by the sponsoring company for competitive (finding a new market for the drug) or other reasons (for example, the drug may not have been tested for interactions with other drugs, or on certain population groups such as pregnant women, who are unlikely to subject themselves to trials). The safety surveillance is designed to detect any rare or long-term adverse effects over a much larger patient population and longer time period than was possible during the Phase I-III clinical trials. Harmful effects discovered by Phase IV trials may result in a drug being no longer sold, or restricted to certain uses.
In animal studies, to confirm that they are safe. Following the successful completion of these studies, these products are ready for human trials.
The primary goals of human studies are to establish that new treatments are both safe and effective. Once this has been confirmed, additional studies – such as those designed to identify the optimal dosing schedule for a new medication – are performed. If the studies all support the therapeutic benefit of the treatment, then the sponsoring company will proceed with submission of their data to the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. The FDA submission and approval process is both time consuming and expensive for product manufacturers. They therefore spend a significant amount of time and resources performing rigorous testing of all new products prior to proceeding to the FDA, in order to maximize the likelihood of approval.