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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Design of non-inferiority randomized trials using the difference in restricted mean survival times

Isabelle R Weir, Ludovic Trinquart
Clinical Trials: Journal of the Society for Clinical Trials 2018, 15 (5): 499-508
30074407
Background/aims Non-inferiority trials with time-to-event outcomes are becoming increasingly common. Designing non-inferiority trials is challenging, in particular, they require very large sample sizes. We hypothesized that the difference in restricted mean survival time, an alternative to the hazard ratio, could lead to smaller required sample sizes. Methods We show how to convert a margin for the hazard ratio into a margin for the difference in restricted mean survival time and how to calculate the required sample size under a Weibull survival distribution. We systematically selected non-inferiority trials published between 2013 and 2016 in seven major journals. Based on the protocol and article of each trial, we determined the clinically relevant time horizon of interest. We reconstructed individual patient data for the primary outcome and fit a Weibull distribution to the comparator arm. We converted the margin for the hazard ratio into the margin for the difference in restricted mean survival time. We tested for non-inferiority using the difference in restricted mean survival time and hazard ratio. We determined the required sample size based on both measures, using the type I error risk and power from the original trial design. Results We included 35 trials. We found evidence of non-proportional hazards in five (14%) trials. The hazard ratio and the difference in restricted mean survival time were consistent regarding non-inferiority testing, except in one trial where the difference in restricted mean survival time led to evidence of non-inferiority while the hazard ratio did not. The median hazard ratio margin was 1.43 (Q1-Q3, 1.29-1.75). The median of the corresponding margins for the difference in restricted mean survival time was -21 days (Q1-Q3, -36 to -8) for a median time horizon of 2.0 years (Q1-Q3, 1-3 years). The required sample size according to the difference in restricted mean survival time was smaller in 71% of trials, with a median relative decrease of 8.5% (Q1-Q3, 0.4%-38.0%). Across all 35 trials, about 25,000 participants would have been spared from enrollment using the difference in restricted mean survival time compared to hazard ratio for trial design. Conclusion The margins for the hazard ratio may seem large but translate to relatively small differences in restricted mean survival time. The difference in restricted mean survival time offers meaningful interpretation and can result in considerable reductions in sample size. Restricted mean survival time-based measures should be considered more widely in the design and analysis of non-inferiority trials with time-to-event outcomes.

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