A third trial oversight committee: Functions, benefits and issues

J. Athene Lane, Carrol Gamble, William J Cragg, Doreen Tembo, Matthew R Sydes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
185 Downloads (Pure)


Clinical trial oversight is central to the safety of participants and production of robust data. The United Kingdom Medical Research Council originally set out an oversight structure comprising three committees in 1998. The first committee, led by the trial team, is hands-on with trial conduct/operations (‘Trial Management Group’) and essential. The second committee (Data Monitoring Committee), usually completely independent of the trial, reviews accumulating trial evidence and is used by most later phase trials. The Independent Data Monitoring Committee makes recommendations to the third oversight committee. The third committee, (‘Trial Steering Committee’), facilitates in-depth interactions of independent and non-independent trial members and gives broader oversight (blinded to comparative analysis). We investigated the roles and functioning of the third oversight committee with multiple research methods. We reflect upon these findings to standardise the committee’s remit and operation and to potentially increase its usage.

We utilised findings from our recent published suite of research on the third oversight committee to inform guideline revision. In brief, we conducted a survey of 38 United Kingdom–registered Clinical Trials Units, reviewed a cohort of 264 published trials, observed 8 third oversight committee meetings and interviewed 52 trialists. We convened an expert panel to discuss third oversight committees. Subsequently, we interviewed nine patient/lay third committee members and eight committee Chairs.

In the survey, most Clinical Trials Units required a third committee for all their trials (27/38, 71%) with independent members (ranging from 1 to 6). In the survey and interviews, the independence of the third committee was valued to make unbiased consideration of Independent Data Monitoring Committee recommendations and to advise on trial progress, protocol changes and recruitment issues in conjunction with the trial leadership. The third committee also advised funders and sponsors about trial continuation and represented patients and the public by including lay members. Of the cohort of 264 published trials, 144 reported a ‘steering’ committee (55%), but the independence of these members was not described so these may have been internal Trial Management Groups. Around two thirds of papers (60%) reported having an Independent Data Monitoring Committee and 26.9% neither a steering nor an Independent Data Monitoring Committee. However, before revising the third committee charter (Terms of Reference), greater standardisation is needed around defining member independence, composition, primacy of decision-making, interactions with other committees and the lifespan.

A third oversight committee has benefits for trial oversight and conduct, and a revised charter will facilitate greater standardisation and wider adoption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-112
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Trials
Issue number1
Early online date30 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

The acceptance date for this record is provisional and based upon the month of publication for the article.

Structured keywords

  • BTC (Bristol Trials Centre)
  • BRTC


  • randomised controlled trials
  • trial oversight
  • Data Monitoring Committee
  • Trial Steering Committee
  • charter
  • patient advocacy


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