Differences in Treatment Effect Size Between Overall Survival and Progression-Free Survival in Immunotherapy Trials: A Meta-Epidemiologic Study of Trials With Results Posted at ClinicalTrials.gov

J Clin Oncol. 2017 May 20;35(15):1686-1694. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2016.71.2109. Epub 2017 Apr 4.


Purpose We aimed to compare treatment effect sizes between overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) in trials of US Food and Drug Administration-approved oncology immunotherapy drugs with results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov . Methods We searched ClinicalTrials.gov for phase II to IV cancer trials of Food and Drug Administration-approved immunotherapy drugs and selected those reporting results for both OS and PFS. For each trial, we extracted the hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% CIs for both outcomes and evaluated the differences by a ratio of HRs (rHRs): the HR for PFS to that for OS. We performed a random effects meta-analysis across trials to obtain a summary rHR. We also evaluated surrogacy of PFS for OS by the coefficient of determination and the surrogacy threshold effect, the minimal value of HR for PFS to predict a non-null effect on OS. Results We identified 51 trials assessing 14 drugs across 15 conditions. Treatment effect sizes were 17% greater, on average, with PFS than with OS (rHR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.79 to 0.88; I2 = 34.4%; P = .01; τ2 = 0.0129). Nearly one half of the trials (n = 23, 45%) showed statistically significant benefits for PFS but not for OS. Differences were great for trials of obinutuzumab (rHR, 0.21; 95% CI, 0.08 to 0.54), bevacizumab (rHR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.67 to 0.84), and rituximab (rHR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.64 to 0.98). The coefficient of determination was 38% and the surrogacy threshold effect was 0.50. Conclusion Treatment effect sizes in trials of immunotherapy drugs were greater for PFS than for OS, with important differences for some drugs, which is consistent with surrogacy metrics. Caution must be taken when interpreting PFS in the absence of OS data.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • Bevacizumab / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Immunotherapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Survival Rate


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Bevacizumab
  • obinutuzumab