Including non-concurrent control patients in the analysis of platform trials: Is it worth it?


Background: Platform trials allow adding new experimental treatments to an on-going trial. This feature is attractive to practitioners due to improved efficiency. Nevertheless, the operating characteristics of a trial that adds arms have not been well-studied. One controversy is whether just the concurrent control data (i.e. of patients who are recruited after a new arm is added) should be used in the analysis of the newly added treatment(s), or all control data (i.e. non-concurrent and concurrent).

Methods: We investigate the benefits and drawbacks of using non-concurrent control data within a two-stage setting. We perform simulation studies to explore the impact of a linear and a step trend on the inference of the trial. We compare several analysis approaches when one includes all the control data or only concurrent control data in the analysis of the newly added treatment.

Results: When there is a positive trend and all the control data are used, the marginal power of rejecting the corresponding hypothesis and the type one error rate can be higher than the nominal value. A model-based approach adjusting for a stage effect is equivalent to using concurrent control data; an adjustment with a linear term may not guarantee valid inference when there is a non-linear trend.

Conclusions: If strict error rate control is required then non-concurrent control data should not be used; otherwise it may be beneficial if the trend is sufficiently small. On the other hand, the root mean squared error of the estimated treatment effect can be improved through using non-concurrent control data.

BMC Medical Research Methodology 2020; 20:165