Applied Statistics 2016 / McShane

Assessment of trial-level surrogacy of an early endpoint using a nonlinear mixed effects model with measurement error

Lisa Meier McShane
U.S. National Cancer Institute, United States of America

A trial-level surrogate end point for a randomized clinical trial may allow assessment of the relative benefits of the treatment to be performed at an earlier time point and potentially with a smaller sample size. However, determining whether an end point is a reliable trial-level surrogate based on results of previous trials is not straightforward. The question of trial-level surrogacy is easily confused with the question of individual-level surrogacy, and this confusion can lead to controversy. A recent example concerns the evaluation of pathologic complete response (pCR) as a surrogate for event-free survival (EFS) and overall survival (OS) in early-stage breast cancer.

The differences between individual-level surrogacy (i.e. for patients receiving a specific treatment, the surrogate end point predicts the definitive end point) and trial-level surrogacy (the results of the trial for the surrogate end point predict the results of the trial for the definitive end point) are discussed. Trial-level data used in two previous meta-analyses evaluating pCR as a trial-level surrogate for EFS and OS were re-analyzed using a nonlinear mixed effects model with measurement error that appropriately accounts for the variability in pCR rates as well as the variability in the hazard ratios for EFS and OS.

The results provided no evidence that pCR is a trial-level surrogate for EFS or OS, nor is there evidence that pCR could be used reliably to screen out non-promising agents from further drug development. It is concluded that, at present, neoadjuvant RCTs should continue to follow patients to observe EFS and OS to assess clinical benefit, and they should be designed with sufficient sample size to reliably assess EFS. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that future meta-analyses involving more trials and in which the patient population or class of treatments is restricted could suggest the validity of pCR as a trial-level surrogate for EFS or OS in some focused settings.