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Bayesian clinical trials in action


J. Jack Lee, Department of Biostatistics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1400 Pressler Street, Unit 1411, Houston, TX 77030, U.S.A.



Although the frequentist paradigm has been the predominant approach to clinical trial design since the 1940s, it has several notable limitations. Advancements in computational algorithms and computer hardware have greatly enhanced the alternative Bayesian paradigm. Compared with its frequentist counterpart, the Bayesian framework has several unique advantages, and its incorporation into clinical trial design is occurring more frequently. Using an extensive literature review to assess how Bayesian methods are used in clinical trials, we find them most commonly used for dose finding, efficacy monitoring, toxicity monitoring, diagnosis/decision making, and studying pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics. The additional infrastructure required for implementing Bayesian methods in clinical trials may include specialized software programs to run the study design, simulation and analysis, and web-based applications, all of which are particularly useful for timely data entry and analysis. Trial success requires not only the development of proper tools but also timely and accurate execution of data entry, quality control, adaptive randomization, and Bayesian computation. The relative merit of the Bayesian and frequentist approaches continues to be the subject of debate in statistics. However, more evidence can be found showing the convergence of the two camps, at least at the practical level. Ultimately, better clinical trial methods lead to more efficient designs, lower sample sizes, more accurate conclusions, and better outcomes for patients enrolled in the trials. Bayesian methods offer attractive alternatives for better trials. More Bayesian trials should be designed and conducted to refine the approach and demonstrate their real benefit in action. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.