Objective: The goal of this study was to determine how the choice of the primary endpoint influenced sample size estimates in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of treatments for primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS).
Methods: We reviewed all studies evaluating biotechnological therapies in pSS to identify their inclusion criteria and primary endpoints. Then, in a large cohort (ASSESS), we determined the proportion of patients who would be included in RCTs using various inclusion criteria sets. Finally, we used the population of a large randomised therapeutic trial in pSS (TEARS) to assess the impact of various primary objectives and endpoints on estimated sample sizes. These analyses were performed only for the endpoints indicating greater efficacy of rituximab compared to the placebo.
Results: We identified 18 studies. The most common inclusion criteria were short disease duration; systemic involvement; high mean visual analogue scale (VAS) scores for dryness, pain, and fatigue; and biological evidence of activity. In the ASSESS cohort, 35 percent of patients had recent-onset disease (lower than 4 years), 68 percent systemic manifestations, 68 percent high scores on two of three VASs, and 52 percent biological evidence of activity. The primary endpoints associated with the smallest sample sizes (nlower than 200) were a VAS dryness score improvement higher to 20 mm by week 24 or variable improvements (10, 20, or 30 mm) in fatigue VAS by week 6 or 16. For patients with systemic manifestations, the ESSDAI change may be the most logical endpoint, as it reflects all domains of disease activity. However, the ESSDAI did not improve significantly with rituximab therapy in the TEARS study. Ultrasound score improvement produced the smallest sample size estimate in the TEARS study.
Conclusion: This study provides valuable information for designing future RCTs on the basis of previously published studies. Previous RCTs used inclusion criteria that selected a small part of the entire pSS population. The endpoint was usually based on VASs assessing patient complaints. In contrast to VAS dryness cut-offs, VAS fatigue cut-offs did not affect estimated sample sizes. SGUS improvement produced the smallest estimated sample size. Further studies are required to validate standardised SGUS modalities and assessment criteria. Thus, researchers should strive to develop a composite primary endpoint and to determine its best cut-off and assessment time point.