Background Ventilator-associated pneumonia is the most common intensive care unit (ICU)-acquired infection, yet accurate diagnosis remains difficult, leading to overuse of antibiotics. Low concentrations of IL-1β and IL-8 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid have been validated as effective markers for exclusion of ventilator-associated pneumonia. The VAPrapid2 trial aimed to determine whether measurement of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid IL-1β and IL-8 could effectively and safely improve antibiotic stewardship in patients with clinically suspected ventilator-associated pneumonia. Methods VAPrapid2 was a multicentre, randomised controlled trial in patients admitted to 24 ICUs from 17 National Health Service hospital trusts across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Patients were screened for eligibility and included if they were 18 years or older, intubated and mechanically ventilated for at least 48 h, and had suspected ventilator-associated pneumonia. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to biomarker-guided recommendation on antibiotics (intervention group) or routine use of antibiotics (control group) using a web-based randomisation service hosted by Newcastle Clinical Trials Unit. Patients were randomised using randomly permuted blocks of size four and six and stratified by site, with allocation concealment. Clinicians were masked to patient assignment for an initial period until biomarker results were reported. Bronchoalveolar lavage was done in all patients, with concentrations of IL-1β and IL-8 rapidly determined in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from patients randomised to the biomarker-based antibiotic recommendation group. If concentrations were below a previously validated cutoff, clinicians were advised that ventilator-associated pneumonia was unlikely and to consider discontinuing antibiotics. Patients in the routine use of antibiotics group received antibiotics according to usual practice at sites. Microbiology was done on bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from all patients and ventilator-associated pneumonia was confirmed by at least 104 colony forming units per mL of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. The primary outcome was the distribution of antibiotic-free days in the 7 days following bronchoalveolar lavage. Data were analysed on an intention-to-treat basis, with an additional per-protocol analysis that excluded patients randomly assigned to the intervention group who defaulted to routine use of antibiotics because of failure to return an adequate biomarker result. An embedded process evaluation assessed factors influencing trial adoption, recruitment, and decision making. This study is registered with ISRCTN, ISRCTN65937227, and ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01972425. Findings Between Nov 6, 2013, and Sept 13, 2016, 360 patients were screened for inclusion in the study. 146 patients were ineligible, leaving 214 who were recruited to the study. Four patients were excluded before randomisation, meaning that 210 patients were randomly assigned to biomarker-guided recommendation on antibiotics (n=104) or routine use of antibiotics (n=106). One patient in the biomarker-guided recommendation group was withdrawn by the clinical team before bronchoscopy and so was excluded from the intention-to-treat analysis. We found no significant difference in the primary outcome of the distribution of antibiotic-free days in the 7 days following bronchoalveolar lavage in the intention-to-treat analysis (p=0·58). Bronchoalveolar lavage was associated with a small and transient increase in oxygen requirements. Established prescribing practices, reluctance for bronchoalveolar lavage, and dependence on a chain of trial-related procedures emerged as factors that impaired trial processes. Interpretation Antibiotic use remains high in patients with suspected ventilator-associated pneumonia. Antibiotic stewardship was not improved by a rapid, highly sensitive rule-out test. Prescribing culture, rather than poor test performance, might explain this absence of effect. Funding UK Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust.