Background: Many cancer patients in phase I clinical trials are treated at doses of chemotherapeutic agents that are below the biologically active level, thus reducing their chances for therapeutic benefit. Current phase I trials often take a long time to complete and provide little information about interpatient variability or cumulative toxicity.
Purpose: Our objective was to develop alternative designs for phase I trials so that fewer patients are treated at subtherapeutic dose levels, trials are of reduced duration, and important information (i.e., cumulative toxicity and maximum tolerated dose) needed to plan phase II trials is obtained.
Methods: We fit a stochastic model to data from 20 phase I trials involving the study of nine different drugs. We then simulated new data from the model with the parameters estimated from the actual trials and evaluated the performance of alternative phase I designs on this simulated data. Four designs were evaluated. Design 1 was a conventional design (similar to the commonly used modified Fibonacci method) using cohorts of three to six patients, with 40% dose-step increments and no intrapatient dose escalation. Designs 2 through 4 included only one patient per cohort until one patient experienced dose-limiting toxic effects or two patients experienced grade 2 toxic effects (during their first course of treatment for designs 2 and 3 or during any course of treatment for design 4). Designs 3 and 4 used 100% dose steps during this initial accelerated phase. After the initial accelerated phase, designs 2 through 4 resorted to standard cohorts of three to six patients, with 40% dose-step increments. Designs 2 through 4 used intrapatient dose escalation if the worst toxicity is grade 0-1 in the previous course for that patient.
Results: Only three of the actual trials demonstrated cumulative toxic effects of the chemotherapeutic agents in patients. The average number of patients required for a phase I trial was reduced from 39.9 for design 1 to 24.4, 20.7, and 21.2 for designs 2, 3, and 4, respectively. The average number of patients who would be expected to have grade 0-1 toxicity as their worst toxicity over three cycles of treatment is 23.3 for design 1, but only 7.9, 3.9, and 4.8 for designs 2, 3, and 4, respectively. The average number of patients with grade 3 toxicity as their worst toxicity increases from 5.5 for design 1 to 6.2, 6.8, and 6.2 for designs 2, 3, and 4, respectively. The average number of patients with grade 4 toxicity as their worst toxicity increases from 1.9 for design 1 to 3.0, 4.3, and 3.2 for designs 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
Conclusion: Accelerated titration (i.e., rapid intrapatient drug dose escalation) designs appear to effectively reduce the number of patients who are under-treated, speed the completion of phase I trials, and provide a substantial increase in the information obtained.