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Biom J. 2005 Feb;47(1):48-61; discussion 99-107.

Statistical methods for the analysis of two-arm non-inferiority trials with binary outcomes.

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  • 1Division of Biostatistics, CIMH Mannheim/University of Heidelberg, D-68159 Mannheim, J5, Germany.


The aim of this contribution is to give an overview of approaches to testing for non-inferiority of one out of two binomial distributions as compared to the other in settings involving independent samples (the paired samples case is not considered here but the major conclusions and recommendations can be shown to hold for both sampling schemes). In principle, there is an infinite number of different ways of defining (one-sided) equivalence in any multiparameter setting. In the binomial two-sample problem, the following three choices of a measure of dissimilarity between the underlying distributions are of major importance for real applications: the odds ratio (OR), the relative risk (RR), and the difference (DEL) of both binomial parameters. It is shown that for all three possibilities of formulating the hypotheses of a non-inferiority problem concerning two binomial proportions, reasonable testing procedures providing exact control over the type-I error risk are available. As a particularly useful and versatile way of handling mathematically nonnatural parametrizations like RR and DELTA, the approach through Bayesian posterior probabilities of hypotheses with respect to some non-informative reference prior has much to recommend it. In order to ensure that the corresponding testing procedure be valid in the classical, i.e. frequentist sense, it suffices to use straightforward computational techniques yielding suitably corrected nominal significance levels. In view of the availability of testing procedures with satisfactory properties for all parametrizations of main practical interest, the discussion of the pros and cons of these methods has to focus on the question of which of the underlying measures of dissimilarity should be preferred on grounds of logic and intuition. It is argued that the OR clearly merits to be given preference also with regard to this latter kind of criteria since the non-inferiority hypotheses defined in terms of the other parametric functions are bounded by lines which cross the boundaries of the parameter space. From this fact, we conclude that the exact Fisher type test for one-sided equivalence provides the most reasonable approach to the confirmatory analysis of non-inferiority trials involving two independent samples of binary data. The marked conservatism of the nonrandomized version of this test can largely be removed by using a suitably increased nominal significance level (depending, in addition to the target level, on the sample sizes and the equivalence margin), or by replacing it with a Bayesian test for non-inferiority with respect to the odds ratio.

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