Roig MB, Krotka P, Burman CF, Glimm E, Gold SM, Hees K, Jacko P, Koeig F, Magirr D, Mesenbrink P, Viele K, Posch M.

Background: Platform trials can evaluate the efficacy of several experimental treatments compared to a control. The number of experimental treatments is not fixed, as arms may be added or removed as the trial progresses. Platform trials are more efficient than independent parallel group trials because of using shared control groups. However, for a treatment entering the trial at a later time point, the control group is divided into concurrent controls, consisting of patients randomised to control when that treatment arm is in the platform, and non-concurrent controls, patients randomised before. Using non-concurrent controls in addition to concurrent controls can improve the trial’s efficiency by increasing power and reducing the required sample size, but can introduce bias due to time trends. Methods: We focus on a platform trial with two treatment arms and a common control arm. Assuming that the second treatment arm is added at a later time, we assess the robustness of recently proposed model-based approaches to adjust for time trends when utilizing non-concurrent controls. In particular, we consider approaches where time trends are modeled either as linear in time or as a step function, with steps at time points where treatments enter or leave the platform trial. For trials with continuous or binary outcomes, we investigate the type 1 error rate and power of testing the efficacy of the newly added arm, as well as the bias and root mean squared error of treatment effect estimates under a range of scenarios. In addition to scenarios where time trends are equal across arms, we investigate settings with different time trends or time trends that are not additive in the scale of the model. Results: A step function model, fitted on data from all treatment arms, gives increased power while controlling the type 1 error, as long as the time trends are equal for the different arms and additive on the model scale. This holds even if the shape of the time trend deviates from a step function when patients are allocated to arms by block randomisation. However, if time trends differ between arms or are not additive to treatment effects in the scale of the model, the type 1 error rate may be inflated. Conclusions: The efficiency gained by using step function models to incorporate non-concurrent controls can outweigh potential risks of biases, especially in settings with small sample sizes. Such biases may arise if the model assumptions of equality and additivity of time trends are not satisfied. However, the specifics of the trial, scientific plausibility of different time trends, and robustness of results should be carefully considered.

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2022 Aug 15;22(1):228

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