Generalizing the per-protocol treatment effect: The case of ACTG A5095

Clin Trials. 2019 Feb;16(1):52-62. doi: 10.1177/1740774518806311. Epub 2018 Oct 17.


Background: Intention-to-treat comparisons of randomized trials provide asymptotically consistent estimators of the effect of treatment assignment, without regard to compliance. However, decision makers often wish to know the effect of a per-protocol comparison. Moreover, decision makers may also wish to know the effect of treatment assignment or treatment protocol in a user-specified target population other than the sample in which the trial was fielded. Here, we aimed to generalize results from the ACTG A5095 trial to the US recently HIV-diagnosed target population.

Methods: We first replicated the published conventional intention-to-treat estimate (2-year risk difference and hazard ratio) comparing a four-drug antiretroviral regimen to a three-drug regimen in the A5095 trial. We then estimated the intention-to-treat effect that accounted for informative dropout and the per-protocol effect that additionally accounted for protocol deviations by constructing inverse probability weights. Furthermore, we employed inverse odds of sampling weights to generalize both intention-to-treat and per-protocol effects to a target population comprising US individuals with HIV diagnosed during 2008-2014.

Results: Of 761 subjects in the analysis, 82 dropouts (36 in the three-drug arm and 46 in the four-drug arm) and 59 protocol deviations (25 in the three-drug arm and 34 in the four-drug arm) occurred during the first 2 years of follow-up. A total of 169 subjects incurred virologic failure or death. The 2-year risks were similar both in the trial and in the US HIV-diagnosed target population for estimates from the conventional intention-to-treat, dropout-weighted intention-to-treat, and per-protocol analyses. In the US target population, the 2-year conventional intention-to-treat risk difference (unit: %) for virologic failure or death comparing the four-drug arm to the three-drug arm was -0.4 (95% confidence interval: -6.2, 5.1), while the hazard ratio was 0.97 (95% confidence interval: 0.70, 1.34); the 2-year risk difference was -0.9 (95% confidence interval: -6.9, 5.3) for the dropout-weighted intention-to-treat comparison (hazard ratio = 0.95, 95% confidence interval: 0.68, 1.32) and -0.7 (95% confidence interval: -6.7, 5.5) for the per-protocol comparison (hazard ratio = 0.96, 95% confidence interval: 0.69, 1.34).

Conclusion: No benefit of four-drug antiretroviral regimen over three-drug regimen was found from the conventional intention-to-treat, dropout-weighted intention-to-treat or per-protocol estimates in the trial sample or target population.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; antiretroviral therapy; causality; clinical trial; external validity; generalizability; intention-to-treat effect; inverse probability weighting; per-protocol effect; virologic failure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Protocols / standards*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis / standards*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sustained Virologic Response*
  • Viral Load / drug effects


  • Anti-Retroviral Agents