Individual participant data meta-analysis of intervention studies with time-to-event outcomes: A review of the methodology and an applied example

Res Synth Methods. 2020 Mar;11(2):148-168. doi: 10.1002/jrsm.1384. Epub 2020 Feb 6.


Many randomized trials evaluate an intervention effect on time-to-event outcomes. Individual participant data (IPD) from such trials can be obtained and combined in a so-called IPD meta-analysis (IPD-MA), to summarize the overall intervention effect. We performed a narrative literature review to provide an overview of methods for conducting an IPD-MA of randomized intervention studies with a time-to-event outcome. We focused on identifying good methodological practice for modeling frailty of trial participants across trials, modeling heterogeneity of intervention effects, choosing appropriate association measures, dealing with (trial differences in) censoring and follow-up times, and addressing time-varying intervention effects and effect modification (interactions).We discuss how to achieve this using parametric and semi-parametric methods, and describe how to implement these in a one-stage or two-stage IPD-MA framework. We recommend exploring heterogeneity of the effect(s) through interaction and non-linear effects. Random effects should be applied to account for residual heterogeneity of the intervention effect. We provide further recommendations, many of which specific to IPD-MA of time-to-event data from randomized trials examining an intervention effect.We illustrate several key methods in a real IPD-MA, where IPD of 1225 participants from 5 randomized clinical trials were combined to compare the effects of Carbamazepine and Valproate on the incidence of epileptic seizures.

Keywords: heterogeneity; individual participant data; intervention; meta-analysis; time-to-event.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Carbamazepine / therapeutic use
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Research Design*
  • Seizures / drug therapy
  • Software
  • Time Factors
  • Valproic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Carbamazepine
  • Valproic Acid