Adaptive design methods in clinical trials - a review

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2008 May 2;3:11. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-3-11.


In recent years, the use of adaptive design methods in clinical research and development based on accrued data has become very popular due to its flexibility and efficiency. Based on adaptations applied, adaptive designs can be classified into three categories: prospective, concurrent (ad hoc), and retrospective adaptive designs. An adaptive design allows modifications made to trial and/or statistical procedures of ongoing clinical trials. However, it is a concern that the actual patient population after the adaptations could deviate from the originally target patient population and consequently the overall type I error (to erroneously claim efficacy for an infective drug) rate may not be controlled. In addition, major adaptations of trial and/or statistical procedures of on-going trials may result in a totally different trial that is unable to address the scientific/medical questions the trial intends to answer. In this article, several commonly considered adaptive designs in clinical trials are reviewed. Impacts of ad hoc adaptations (protocol amendments), challenges in by design (prospective) adaptations, and obstacles of retrospective adaptations are described. Strategies for the use of adaptive design in clinical development of rare diseases are discussed. Some examples concerning the development of Velcade intended for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are given. Practical issues that are commonly encountered when implementing adaptive design methods in clinical trials are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Humans
  • Random Allocation
  • Rare Diseases / drug therapy
  • Research Design*
  • Statistics as Topic