Detecting and accounting for violations of the constancy assumption in non-inferiority clinical trials

Joseph S. Koopmeiners, Brian P. Hobbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials are the gold standard for evaluating a novel therapeutic agent. In some instances, it may not be considered ethical or desirable to complete a placebo-controlled clinical trial and, instead, the placebo is replaced by an active comparator with the objective of showing either superiority or non-inferiority to the active comparator. In a non-inferiority trial, the experimental treatment is considered non-inferior if it retains a pre-specified proportion of the effect of the active comparator as represented by the non-inferiority margin. A key assumption required for valid inference in the non-inferiority setting is the constancy assumption, which requires that the effect of the active comparator in the non-inferiority trial is consistent with the effect that was observed in previous trials. It has been shown that violations of the constancy assumption can result in a dramatic increase in the rate of incorrectly concluding non-inferiority in the presence of ineffective or even harmful treatment. In this paper, we illustrate how Bayesian hierarchical modeling can be used to facilitate multi-source smoothing of the data from the current trial with the data from historical studies, enabling direct probabilistic evaluation of the constancy assumption. We then show how this result can be used to adapt the non-inferiority margin when the constancy assumption is violated and present simulation results illustrating that our method controls the type-I error rate when the constancy assumption is violated, while retaining the power of the standard approach when the constancy assumption holds. We illustrate our adaptive procedure using a non-inferiority trial of raltegravir, an antiretroviral drug for the treatment of HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1547-1558
Number of pages12
JournalStatistical methods in medical research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was partially supported by a research grant from Medtronic Inc. (JSK) and NIH grants R01CA157458 and P30CA016672 (BPH).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.


  • Bayesian hierarchical modeling
  • HIV
  • Non-inferiority trial
  • constancy assumption
  • multi-source smoothing


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