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Biostatistics. 2000 Sep;1(3):231-46.

On meta-analytic assessment of surrogate outcomes.

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National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, Executive Plaza South, Room 8032, 1620 Executive Boulevard, MSC 7244, Bethesda, MD 20892-7244, USA.


We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the meta-analytic approach to estimating the effect of a new treatment on a true clinical outcome measure, T, from the effect of treatment on a surrogate response, S. The meta-analytic approach (see Daniels and Hughes (1997) 16, 1965-1982) uses data from a series of previous studies of interventions similar to the new treatment. The data are used to estimate relationships between summary measures of treatment effects on T and S that can be used to infer the magnitude of the effect of the new treatment on T from its effects on S. We extend the class of models to cover a broad range of applications in which the parameters define features of the marginal distribution of (T, S). We present a new bootstrap procedure to allow for the variability in estimating the distribution that governs the between-study variation. Ignoring this variability can lead to confidence intervals that are much too narrow. The meta-analytic approach relies on quite different data and assumptions than procedures that depend, for example, on the conditional independence, at the individual level, of treatment and T, given S (see Prentice (1989) 8, 431-440). Meta-analytic calculations in this paper can be used to determine whether a new study, based only on S, will yield estimates of the treatment effect on T that are precise enough to be useful. Compared to direct measurement on T, the meta-analytic approach has a number of limitations, including likely serious loss of precision and difficulties in defining the class of previous studies to be used to predict the effects on T for a new intervention.

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