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Interpretation of active-control randomised trials: the case for a new analytical perspective involving averted events

Dunn, David T; Stirrup, Oliver T; McCormack, Sheena; Glidden, David V; (2023) Interpretation of active-control randomised trials: the case for a new analytical perspective involving averted events. BMC Medical Research Methodology , 23 , Article 149. 10.1186/s12874-023-01970-0. Green open access

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Abstract

Active-control trials, where an experimental treatment is compared with an established treatment, are performed when the inclusion of a placebo control group is deemed to be unethical. For time-to-event outcomes, the primary estimand is usually the rate ratio, or the closely-related hazard ratio, comparing the experimental group with the control group. In this article we describe major problems in the interpretation of this estimand, using examples from COVID-19 vaccine and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis trials. In particular, when the control treatment is highly effective, the rate ratio may indicate that the experimental treatment is clearly statistically inferior even when it is worthwhile from a public health perspective. We argue that it is crucially important to consider averted events as well as observed events in the interpretation of active-control trials. An alternative metric that incorporates this information, the averted events ratio, is proposed and exemplified. Its interpretation is simple and conceptually appealing, namely the proportion of events that would be averted by using the experimental treatment rather than the control treatment. The averted events ratio cannot be directly estimated from the active-control trial, and requires an additional assumption about either: (a) the incidence that would have been observed in a hypothetical placebo arm (the counterfactual incidence) or (b) the efficacy of the control treatment (relative to no treatment) that pertained in the active-control trial. Although estimation of these parameters is not straightforward, this must be attempted in order to draw rational inferences. To date, this method has been applied only within HIV prevention research, but has wider applicability to treatment trials and other disease areas.

Type: Article
Title: Interpretation of active-control randomised trials: the case for a new analytical perspective involving averted events
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1186/s12874-023-01970-0
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-023-01970-0
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Keywords: Active-control, Averted, Estimand, Non-inferiority, Relative efficacy
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 > Institute for Global Health
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
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute for Global Health > Infection and Population Health
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10172531
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