Malaria patient spectrum representation in therapeutic clinical trials of uncomplicated malaria: a scoping review of the literature.
Arena L., Zanamwe M., Halleux CM., Carrara V., Angus BJ., Ariana P., Humphreys GS., Richmond C., Stepniewska K., Guérin PJ., Olliaro PL.
BACKGROUND: For the results of clinical trials to have external validity, the patients included in the study must be representative of the population presenting in the general clinical settings. A scoping literature review was performed to evaluate how the eligibility criteria used in anti-malarial efficacy and safety trials translate into patient selection. METHODS: A search of the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN) Clinical Trials Publication Library, MEDLINE, The Cochrane Library, and clinicaltrials.gov was conducted to identify trials investigating anti-malarial efficacy and safety, published between 14th April 2001 and 31st December 2017. An updated search using the WWARN Clinical Trial Publication Library was undertaken to identify eligible publications from 1st January 2018 to 31st July 2021. The review included studies in patients of any age with uncomplicated malaria and any pharmaceutical therapeutic intervention administered. The proportion of trials with malaria-positive patients excluded was calculated and linked to the reported reason for exclusion. A subgroup analysis on eligibility criteria and trial baseline demographics was conducted to assess whether criteria are complied with when recruiting patients. RESULTS: Out of 847 studies, 176 (21%) trials were included in the final synthesis, screening a total of 157,516 malaria-positive patients, of whom 56,293 (36%) were enrolled and treated. Across the 176 studies included, 84 different inclusion and exclusion criteria were identified. The reason for exclusion of patients who tested positive for malaria was reported in 144 (82%) studies. Three criteria account for about 70% of malaria-positive patients excluded: mixed-species malaria infections or other specific Plasmodium species, parasite counts outside the set study ranges, and refusal of consent. CONCLUSIONS: Nearly two-thirds of the malaria-positive subjects who present to health facilities are systematically excluded from anti-malarial treatment trials. Reasons for exclusions are largely under-reported. Anti-malarial treatment in the general population is informed by studies on a narrow selection of patients who do not fully represent the totality of those seeking antimalarial treatment in routine practice. While entry criteria ensure consistency across trials, pragmatic trials are also necessary to supplement the information currently available and improve the external validity of the findings of malaria clinical trials.