Commentary: the 1944 patulin trial: the first properly controlled multicentre trial conducted under the aegis of the British Medical Research Council.
Chalmers I., Clarke M.
The 1948 report of the British Medical Research Council's randomized trial of streptomycin for pulmonary tuberculosis is widely regarded as marking the beginning of the modern history of controlled clinical trials. Four years earlier, however, a methodologically sophisticated multicentre trial conducted under the aegis of the Medical Research Council was reported, which assessed the effects of the antibiotic patulin on the course of common colds. Philip D'Arcy Hart and Joan Faulkner (later Joan Doll) were the secretary and assistant secretary, respectively, to the committee overseeing the trial, and they clearly recognized the importance of preventing foreknowledge of allocations from those admitting patients to the study. To do this and to 'muddle people up', they and Ruth D'Arcy Hart devised a scheme involving the use of two patulin groups and two placebo groups, allocating patients to one of these four groups using strict rotation. Philip D'Arcy Hart believes that this study has been overshadowed by the celebrated streptomycin trial (for which he was also secretary to the oversight committee) because no beneficial effect of patulin was detected, and because the report of the streptomycin trial referred to the use of random sampling numbers to generate the allocation schedule. This article makes clear why we agree with Philip D'Arcy Hart that the 1944 patulin trial deserves wider recognition as the first well controlled, multicentre clinical trial to have been conducted under the aegis of the British Medical Research Council. This status is reflected in the International Journal of Epidemiology's reproduction of the full text of the trial report in this issue of the journal.