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Clin Trials. 2012 Apr;9(2):141-54. doi: 10.1177/1740774512437252. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

Clinical trial designs for testing biomarker-based personalized therapies.

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Department of Statistics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.



Advances in molecular therapeutics in the past decade have opened up new possibilities for treating cancer patients with personalized therapies, using biomarkers to determine which treatments are most likely to benefit them, but there are difficulties and unresolved issues in the development and validation of biomarker-based personalized therapies. We develop a new clinical trial design to address some of these issues. The goal is to capture the strengths of the frequentist and Bayesian approaches to address this problem in the recent literature and to circumvent their limitations.


We use generalized likelihood ratio tests of the intersection null and enriched strategy null hypotheses to derive a novel clinical trial design for the problem of advancing promising biomarker-guided strategies toward eventual validation. We also investigate the usefulness of adaptive randomization (AR) and futility stopping proposed in the recent literature.


Simulation studies demonstrate the advantages of testing both the narrowly focused enriched strategy null hypothesis related to validating a proposed strategy and the intersection null hypothesis that can accommodate to a potentially successful strategy. AR and early termination of ineffective treatments offer increased probability of receiving the preferred treatment and better response rates for patients in the trial, at the expense of more complicated inference under small-to-moderate total sample sizes and some reduction in power.


The binary response used in the development phase may not be a reliable indicator of treatment benefit on long-term clinical outcomes. In the proposed design, the biomarker-guided strategy (BGS) is not compared to 'standard of care', such as physician's choice that may be informed by patient characteristics. Therefore, a positive result does not imply superiority of the BGS to 'standard of care'. The proposed design and tests are valid asymptotically. Simulations are used to examine small-to-moderate sample properties.


Innovative clinical trial designs are needed to address the difficulties and issues in the development and validation of biomarker-based personalized therapies. The article shows the advantages of using likelihood inference and interim analysis to meet the challenges in the sample size needed and in the constantly evolving biomarker landscape and genomic and proteomic technologies.

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