Designing clinical trials with (restricted) mean survival time endpoint: Practical considerations

Anne Eaton, Terry Therneau, Jennifer Le-Rademacher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background/aims: The difference in mean survival time, which quantifies the treatment effect in terms most meaningful to patients and retains its interpretability regardless of the shape of the survival distribution or the proportionality of the treatment effect, is an alternative endpoint that could be used more often as the primary endpoint to design clinical trials. The underuse of this endpoint is due to investigators’ lack of familiarity with the test comparing the mean survival times and the lack of tools to facilitate trial design with this endpoint. The aim of this article is to provide investigators with insights and software to design trials with restricted mean survival time as the primary endpoint. Methods: A closed-form formula for the asymptotic power of the test of restricted mean survival time difference is presented. The effects of design parameters on power were evaluated for the mean survival time test and log-rank test. An R package which calculates the power or the sample size for user-specified parameter values and provides power plots for each design parameter is provided. The R package also calculates the probability that the restricted mean survival time is estimable for user-defined trial designs. Results: Under proportional hazards and late differences in survival, the power of the mean survival time test can approach that of the log-rank test if the restriction time is late. Under early differences, the power of the restricted mean survival time test is higher than that of the log-rank test. Duration of accrual and follow-up have little influence on the power of the restricted mean survival time test. The choice of restriction time, on the other hand, has a large impact on power. Because the power depends on the interplay among the design factors, plotting the relationship between each design parameter and power allows the users to select the designs most appropriate for their trial. When modification is necessary to ensure the difference in restricted mean survival time is estimable, the three available modifications all perform adequately in the scenarios studied. Conclusion: The restricted mean survival time is a survival endpoint that is meaningful to investigators and to patients and at the same time requires less restrictive assumptions. The biggest challenge with this endpoint is selection of the restriction time. We recommend selecting a restriction time that is clinically relevant to the disease and the clinical setting of the trial of interest. The practical considerations and the R package provided in this work are readily available tools that researchers can use to design trials with restricted mean survival time as the primary endpoint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-294
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Trials
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Restricted mean survival time
  • absolute risk
  • clinical trial design
  • log-rank test
  • power
  • proportional hazards
  • sample size
  • survival analysis
  • time-to-event endpoints

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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