To identify predictors of medication-placebo differences in double-blind placebo-controlled antidepressant trials in children and adolescents with anxiety and depression.
Clinical trials in patients <18 years of age with major depressive disorder or generalized, separation or social anxiety disorders were obtained from PubMed, the Cochrane Database and clinicaltrials.gov searches from inception through 2019. Forty-nine trials (43 published and 6 unpublished) of anxiety (kappa = 13) and depression (kappa = 36) evaluated 19 antidepressants in 8642 child and adolescent patients; placebo and medication response rates, trial characteristics, disorder, medication class, and funding source were extracted. Antidepressant-placebo differences were examined using Bayesian hierarchical models and estimates of response were determined for trial design, disorder, and medication class variables. Using meta-regression, correlates of antidepressant-placebo difference and placebo response were examined.
Funding source differentiated medication-placebo differences regardless of disorder. Industry trials had larger placebo response rates (mean difference: 0.189 +/- 0.066, credible interval [CrI]: 0.067 to 0.33, p = 0.0008) and smaller medication-placebo differences (-0.235 +/- 0.078, CrI: -0.397 to -0.086, p = 0.005) compared with federally funded trials. However, medication response was similar for industry- and federally-funded studies (-0.046 +/- 0.042, CrI: -0.130 to 0.038, p = 0.252).
The impact of study sponsorship on trial outcome supports the assertion that industry-funded trials with high placebo response rates and small drug-placebo differences are "failed trials" and should not be described as "negative trials" or used to determine public health estimates of antidepressant efficacy in children and adolescents with anxiety and depression. Identifying the proper role and value of industry-funded trials is critical to establishing the evidence base for antidepressants in youth.
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