Protocol adherence rates in superiority and noninferiority randomized clinical trials published in high impact medical journals.

Year of Publication


Number of Pages


Date Published

2020 Jul 15

ISSN Number



<p><strong>BACKGROUND/AIMS: </strong>Noninferiority clinical trials are susceptible to false confirmation of noninferiority when the intention-to-treat principle is applied in the setting of incomplete trial protocol adherence. The risk increases as protocol adherence rates decrease. The objective of this study was to compare protocol adherence and hypothesis confirmation between superiority and noninferiority randomized clinical trials published in three high impact medical journals. We hypothesized that noninferiority trials have lower protocol adherence and greater hypothesis confirmation.</p>

<p><strong>METHODS: </strong>We conducted an observational study using published clinical trial data. We searched PubMed for active control, two-arm parallel group randomized clinical trials published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Lancet between 2007 and 2017. The primary exposure was trial type, superiority versus noninferiority, as determined by the hypothesis testing framework of the primary trial outcome. The primary outcome was trial protocol adherence rate, defined as the number of randomized subjects receiving the allocated intervention as described by the trial protocol and followed to primary outcome ascertainment (numerator), over the total number of subjects randomized (denominator). Hypothesis confirmation was defined as affirmation of noninferiority or the alternative hypothesis for noninferiority and superiority trials, respectively.</p>

<p><strong>RESULTS: </strong>Among 120 superiority and 120 noninferiority trials, median and interquartile protocol adherence rates were 91.5 [81.4-96.7] and 89.8 [83.6-95.2], respectively; = 0.47. Hypothesis confirmation was observed in 107/120 (89.2%) of noninferiority and 64/120 (53.3%) of superiority trials, risk difference (95% confidence interval): 35.8 (25.3-46.3), &lt; 0.001.</p>

<p><strong>CONCLUSION: </strong>Protocol adherence rates are similar between superiority and noninferiority trials published in three high impact medical journals. Despite this, we observed greater hypothesis confirmation among noninferiority trials. We speculate that publication bias, lenient noninferiority margins and other sources of bias may contribute to this finding. Further study is needed to identify the reasons for this observed difference.</p>



Alternate Title

Clin Trials




Subscription is not available for this page.