To add or not to add a new treatment arm to a multiarm study: A decision-theoretic framework


Multiarm clinical trials, which compare several experimental treatments against control, are frequently recommended due to their efficiency gain. In practise, all potential treatments may not be ready to be tested in a phase II/III trial at the same time. It has become appealing to allow new treatment arms to be added into on-going clinical trials using a “platform” trial approach. To the best of our knowledge, many aspects of when to add arms to an existing trial have not been explored in the literature. Most works on adding arm(s) assume that a new arm is opened whenever a new treatment becomes available. This strategy may prolong the overall duration of a study or cause reduction in marginal power for each hypothesis if the adaptation is not well accommodated. Within a two-stage trial setting, we propose a decision-theoretic framework to investigate when to add or not to add a new treatment arm based on the observed stage one treatment responses. To account for different prospect of multiarm studies, we define utility in two different ways; one for a trial that aims to maximise the number of rejected hypotheses; the other for a trial that would declare a success when at least one hypothesis is rejected from the study. Our framework shows that it is not always optimal to add a new treatment arm to an existing trial. We illustrate a case study by considering a completed trial on knee osteoarthritis.

Statistics in Medicine 2019; 38(18):3305-3321