Do feasibility studies contribute to, or avoid, waste in research?

Ben Morgan, Jennie Hejdenberg, Saba Hinrichs-Krapels, David Armstrong

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In the context of avoiding research waste, the conduct of a feasibility study before a clinical trial should reduce the risk that further resources will be committed to a trial that is likely to ‘fail’. However, there is little evidence indicating whether feasibility studies add to or reduce waste in research. Feasibility studies funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s (NIHR) Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) programme were examined to determine how many had published their findings, how many had applied for further funding for a full trial and the timeframe in which both of these occurred. A total of 120 feasibility studies which had closed by May 2016 were identified and each Principal Investigator (PI) was sent a questionnaire of which 89 responses were received and deemed suitable for analysis. Based on self reported answers from the PIs a total of 57 feasibility studies were judged as feasible, 20 were judged not feasible and for 12 it was judged as uncertain whether a full trial was feasible. The RfPB programme had spent approximately £19.5m on the 89 feasibility studies of which 16 further studies had been subsequently funded to a total of £16.8m. The 20 feasibility studies which were judged as not feasible potentially saved up to approximately £20m of further research funding which would likely to have not completed successfully. The average RfPB feasibility study took 31 months (range 18 to 48) to complete and cost £219,048 (range £72,031 to £326,830) and the average full trial funded from an RfPB feasibility study took 42 months (range 26 to 55) to complete and cost £1,163,996 (range £321,403 to £2,099,813). The average timeframe of feasibility study and full trial was 72 months (range 56 to 91), however in addition to this time an average of 10 months (range -7 to 29) was taken between the end of the feasibility study and the application for the full trial, and a further average of 18 months (range 13 to 28) between the application for the full trial and the start of the full trial. Approximately 58% of the 89 feasibility studies had published their findings with the majority of the remaining studies still planning to publish. Due to the long time frames involved a number of studies were still in the process of publishing the feasibility findings and/or applying for a full trial. Feasibility studies are potentially useful at avoiding waste and de-risking funding investments of more expensive full trials, however there is a clear time delay and therefore some potential waste in the existing research pathway.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0195951
JournalPLOS One
Issue number4
Early online date23 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2018


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