Principal Stratum Strategy: Potential Role in Drug Development

08/12/2020
by   Björn Bornkamp, et al.
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A randomized trial allows estimation of the causal effect of an intervention compared to a control in the overall population and in subpopulations defined by baseline characteristics. Often, however, clinical questions also arise regarding the treatment effect in subpopulations of patients, which would experience clinical or disease related events post-randomization. Events that occur after treatment initiation and potentially affect the interpretation or the existence of the measurements are called intercurrent events in the ICH E9(R1) guideline. If the intercurrent event is a consequence of treatment, randomization alone is no longer sufficient to meaningfully estimate the treatment effect. Analyses comparing the subgroups of patients without the intercurrent events for intervention and control will not estimate a causal effect. This is well known, but post-hoc analyses of this kind are commonly performed in drug development. An alternative approach is the principal stratum strategy, which classifies subjects according to their potential occurrence of an intercurrent event on both study arms. We illustrate with examples that questions formulated through principal strata occur naturally in drug development and argue that approaching these questions with the ICH E9(R1) estimand framework has the potential to lead to more transparent assumptions as well as more adequate analyses and conclusions. In addition, we provide an overview of assumptions required for estimation of effects in principal strata. Most of these assumptions are unverifiable and should hence be based on solid scientific understanding. Sensitivity analyses are needed to assess robustness of conclusions.

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