Background: Prioritisation of clinical trials ensures that the research conducted meets the needs of stakeholders, makes the best use of resources and avoids duplication. The aim of this review was to identify and critically appraise approaches to research prioritisation applicable to clinical trials, to inform best practice guidelines for clinical trial networks and funders.
Methods: A scoping review of English-language published literature and research organisation websites (January 2000 to January 2020) was undertaken to identify primary studies, approaches and criteria for research prioritisation. Data were extracted and tabulated, and a narrative synthesis was employed.
Results: Seventy-eight primary studies and 18 websites were included. The majority of research prioritisation occurred in oncology and neurology disciplines. The main reasons for prioritisation were to address a knowledge gap (51 of 78 studies [65%]) and to define patient-important topics (28 studies, [35%]). In addition, research organisations prioritised in order to support their institution’s mission, invest strategically, and identify best return on investment. Fifty-seven of 78 (73%) studies used interpretative prioritisation approaches (including Delphi surveys, James Lind Alliance and consensus workshops); six studies used quantitative approaches (8%) such as prospective payback or value of information (VOI) analyses; and 14 studies used blended approaches (18%) such as nominal group technique and Child Health Nutritional Research Initiative. Main criteria for prioritisation included relevance, appropriateness, significance, feasibility and cost-effectiveness.
Conclusion: Current research prioritisation approaches for groups conducting and funding clinical trials are largely interpretative. There is an opportunity to improve the transparency of prioritisation through the inclusion of quantitative approaches.