Background: Systematic evaluations of the quality of research on a single prognostic biomarker are rare. We sought to evaluate the quality of prognostic research evidence for the association of C-reactive protein (CRP) with fatal and nonfatal events among patients with stable coronary disease.
Methods and findings: We searched MEDLINE (1966 to 2009) and EMBASE (1980 to 2009) and selected prospective studies of patients with stable coronary disease, reporting a relative risk for the association of CRP with death and nonfatal cardiovascular events. We included 83 studies, reporting 61,684 patients and 6,485 outcome events. No study reported a prespecified statistical analysis protocol; only two studies reported the time elapsed (in months or years) between initial presentation of symptomatic coronary disease and inclusion in the study. Studies reported a median of seven items (of 17) from the REMARK reporting guidelines, with no evidence of change over time. The pooled relative risk for the top versus bottom third of CRP distribution was 1.97 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.78-2.17), with substantial heterogeneity (I(2) = 79.5). Only 13 studies adjusted for conventional risk factors (age, sex, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol) and these had a relative risk of 1.65 (95% CI 1.39-1.96), I(2) = 33.7. Studies reported ten different ways of comparing CRP values, with weaker relative risks for those based on continuous measures. Adjusting for publication bias (for which there was strong evidence, Egger's p<0.001) using a validated method reduced the relative risk to 1.19 (95% CI 1.13-1.25). Only two studies reported a measure of discrimination (c-statistic). In 20 studies the detection rate for subsequent events could be calculated and was 31% for a 10% false positive rate, and the calculated pooled c-statistic was 0.61 (0.57-0.66).
Conclusion: Multiple types of reporting bias, and publication bias, make the magnitude of any independent association between CRP and prognosis among patients with stable coronary disease sufficiently uncertain that no clinical practice recommendations can be made. Publication of prespecified statistical analytic protocols and prospective registration of studies, among other measures, might help improve the quality of prognostic biomarker research.