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Using modified intention-to-treat as a principal stratum estimator for failure to initiate treatment

Kahan, Brennan C; White, Ian R; Edwards, Mark; Harhay, Michael O; (2023) Using modified intention-to-treat as a principal stratum estimator for failure to initiate treatment. Clinical Trials 10.1177/17407745231160074. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: A common intercurrent event affecting many trials is when some participants do not begin their assigned treatment. For example, in a double-blind drug trial, some participants may not receive any dose of study medication. Many trials use a 'modified intention-to-treat' approach, whereby participants who do not initiate treatment are excluded from the analysis. However, it is not clear (a) the estimand being targeted by such an approach and (b) the assumptions necessary for such an approach to be unbiased. METHODS: Using potential outcome notation, we demonstrate that a modified intention-to-treat analysis which excludes participants who do not begin treatment is estimating a principal stratum estimand (i.e. the treatment effect in the subpopulation of participants who would begin treatment, regardless of which arm they were assigned to). The modified intention-to-treat estimator is unbiased for the principal stratum estimand under the assumption that the intercurrent event is not affected by the assigned treatment arm, that is, participants who initiate treatment in one arm would also do so in the other arm (i.e. if someone began the intervention, they would also have begun the control, and vice versa). RESULTS: We identify two key criteria in determining whether the modified intention-to-treat estimator is likely to be unbiased: first, we must be able to measure the participants in each treatment arm who experience the intercurrent event, and second, the assumption that treatment allocation will not affect whether the participant begins treatment must be reasonable. Most double-blind trials will satisfy these criteria, as the decision to start treatment cannot be influenced by the allocation, and we provide an example of an open-label trial where these criteria are likely to be satisfied as well, implying that a modified intention-to-treat analysis which excludes participants who do not begin treatment is an unbiased estimator for the principal stratum effect in these settings. We also give two examples where these criteria will not be satisfied (one comparing an active intervention vs usual care, where we cannot identify which usual care participants would have initiated the active intervention, and another comparing two active interventions in an unblinded manner, where knowledge of the assigned treatment arm may affect the participant's choice to begin or not), implying that a modified intention-to-treat estimator will be biased in these settings. CONCLUSION: A modified intention-to-treat analysis which excludes participants who do not begin treatment can be an unbiased estimator for the principal stratum estimand. Our framework can help identify when the assumptions for unbiasedness are likely to hold, and thus whether modified intention-to-treat is appropriate or not.

Type: Article
Title: Using modified intention-to-treat as a principal stratum estimator for failure to initiate treatment
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/17407745231160074
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/17407745231160074
Language: English
Additional information: © The Author(s) 2023. Creative Commons License (CC BY 4.0) This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Keywords: Estimand, intercurrent event, modified intention-to-treat, principal stratum, randomised controlled trial, treatment initiation
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology > MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10166919
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