The lure of a clinical trial can be strong. At its best, clinical trials offer a person with arthritis access to cutting-edge medications, sometimes years before those medications are generally available. Even if the medication you’re testing turns out to be ineffective, you still get the benefit of enhanced medical care through the study, as well as free treatment. 

If you have chronic pain that can’t be controlled by any existing treatment, clinical trials offer hope of a pain-free future may be even more tempting. Here’s what you need to know to get into a clinical trial:

Finding a Clinical Trial

New medications are in development all the time. So what are the best resources for finding a clinical trial that’s right for you?

  • Your doctor. She knows the specifics of your condition and may even be involved in appropriate research.
  • Major medical centers. Call the rheumatology division of a university medical center or teaching hospital to ask about upcoming trials related to your condition.
  • Arthritis Foundation local offices. Your local office may keep a list of ongoing trials or be able to refer you to someone who does.
  • Web sites. You can search for clinical trials for a specific condition at www.clinicaltrials.gov or www.centerwatch.com.
  • Word of mouth. Let people know that you’re interested in clinical trials for arthritis, and you may be surprised by who can offer information.

Evaluating a Clinical Trial

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re considering a clinical trial.

  • You may not be eligible. In most cases, if your current treatment program is working, your doctor won’t OK you to participate in a clinical trial. Even if you haven’t found a treatment plan that works, each trial has specific criteria that participants have to meet, and if you’ve been taking – or not taking – a certain medication, been diagnosed for a certain period of time or even follow a certain exercise program, you may not be eligible for a specific trial. Understand the required qualifications before you apply.
  • Look for Phase 3 or later trials. The further along in the process a trial is, the likelier it is that the medication being tested has real benefit for someone with arthritis. Most Phase 1 trials – the first step after animal testing – are mainly to determine toxicity and recommended dosage. Phase 2 trials generally determine whether the drug works the way it’s supposed to. By Phase 3, it’s clear that the drug does have benefits for a specific condition, and the trial is to test how those benefits compare to the benefits of existing treatments.
  • Know the treatment you’ll be getting. In most Phase 3 trials, an experimental treatment goes head-to-head with the most effective existing treatment, so whether you’re in the control group or the test group, you’ll be getting excellent care. In some cases, though, the control group may get a placebo instead of medication. Understand what all the possible treatment options are before you enroll.
  • Share the details with your doctor. She’s in the best position to know how you might react to any of the specifics of the trial.