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Assessing positive outcomes of phase III trials
Date:12/3/2010

Randomized phase III studies should be designed to find out whether a new drug or treatment makes a meaningful difference in patients' survival or quality of life, according to a commentary published online December 3rd in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Instead, most trials now are designed to detect a statistically significant difference between treatment and control groups, which may not be clinically meaningful, write Alberto Ocana, M.D., Ph.D. and Ian F. Tannock, M.D., Ph.D., of Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) approve drugs usually based on statistically significant results of randomized phase III trials comparing a new, investigational drug with standard treatment. Ocana and Tannock note that pharmaceutical companies have typically sponsored clinical trials that are large enough to detect statistically significant differences in survival. But these differences are often trivial, they say. For instance, the trial that led to approval of erlotinib (Tarceva) for pancreatic cancer found that patients who took the drug had a median survival just 10 days longer than patients in the control group. However, the difference was statistically significant, and the drug was approved.

The authors write that pharmaceutical companies look for a difference in survival outcome between two groups of a trial that is "not usually the minimal difference in overall survival or progression-free survival that is clinically important, but more likely the minimal difference that is feasible to detect, considering the limits on the sample size and hence the cost of the trial."

The authors argue for another approach: "Ideally, trials should be designed [to detect] the minimum clinically important difference, taking into account the tolerability and toxicity of the new treatment, that would persuade oncologists to adop
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Contact: Kristine Crane
jncimedia@oxfordjournals.org
301-841-1285
Journal of the National Cancer Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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