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Keywords:

  • Adaptive designs;
  • Clinical trials;
  • Estimation;
  • Group sequential tests;
  • Inference;
  • Sample size modification

Summary

Many papers have introduced adaptive clinical trial methods that allow modifications to the sample size based on interim estimates of treatment effect. There has been extensive commentary on type I error control and efficiency considerations, but little research on estimation after an adaptive hypothesis test. We evaluate the reliability and precision of different inferential procedures in the presence of an adaptive design with pre-specified rules for modifying the sampling plan. We extend group sequential orderings of the outcome space based on the stage at stopping, likelihood ratio statistic, and sample mean to the adaptive setting in order to compute median-unbiased point estimates, exact confidence intervals, and P-values uniformly distributed under the null hypothesis. The likelihood ratio ordering is found to average shorter confidence intervals and produce higher probabilities of P-values below important thresholds than alternative approaches. The bias adjusted mean demonstrates the lowest mean squared error among candidate point estimates. A conditional error-based approach in the literature has the benefit of being the only method that accommodates unplanned adaptations. We compare the performance of this and other methods in order to quantify the cost of failing to plan ahead in settings where adaptations could realistically be pre-specified at the design stage. We find the cost to be meaningful for all designs and treatment effects considered, and to be substantial for designs frequently proposed in the literature.