A placebo (often called a sugar pill) is an agent that has no effect on the disease or patient, and is used in some clinical trials as a control to measure the success rate of the new medication.
Rather than administering a non-active placebo, today many studies use the current standard of care as a control. This means that patients will be administered either the conventionally available treatment or the new experimental treatment.
There are a few different structures that a trial can take:
In an “open label” clinical trial both clinicians and patients know which treatment is being administered. In a “double blind” trial neither clinicians nor patients know which treatment is being administered. However, it’s important to note that even in blind trials patients are almost always offered, at minimum, the current standard of care, meaning that you will receive treatment while enrolled in a trial. In trials where this is not the case (i.e., patients are not getting the standard treatment), the trial coordinator/investigator will disclose all necessary information to the participant.