Adaptive designs in clinical trials: From scientific advice to marketing authorisation to the European Medicine Agency

Olivier Collignon*, Franz Koenig, Armin Koch, Robert James Hemmings, Frank Pétavy, Agnès Saint-Raymond, Marisa Papaluca-Amati, Martin Posch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In recent years, experience on the application of adaptive designs in confirmatory clinical trials has accumulated. Although planning such trials comes at the cost of additional operational complexity, adaptive designs offer the benefit of flexibility to update trial design and objectives as data accrue. In 2007, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) provided guidance on confirmatory clinical trials with adaptive (or flexible) designs. In order to better understand how adaptive trials are implemented in practice and how they may impact medicine approval within the EMA centralised procedure, we followed on 59 medicines for which an adaptive clinical trial had been submitted to the EMA Scientific Advice (SA) and analysed previously in a dedicated EMA survey of scientific advice letters. We scrutinized in particular the submission of the corresponding medicines for a marketing authorisation application (MAA). We also discuss the current regulatory perspective as regards the implementation of adaptive designs in confirmatory clinical trials. Methods: Using the internal EMA MAA database, the AdisInsight database and related trial registries, we analysed how many of these 59 trials actually started, the completion status, results, the time to trial start, the adaptive elements finally implemented after SA, their possible influence on the success of the trial and corresponding product approval. Results: Overall 31 trials out of 59 (53%) were retrieved. Thirty of them (97%) have been started and 23 (74%) concluded. Nine of these trials (39% out of 23) demonstrated a significant treatment effect on their primary endpoint and 4 (17% out of 23) supported a marketing authorisation (MA). An additional two trials were stopped using pre-defined criteria for futility, efficiently identifying trials on which further resources should not be spent. Median time to trial start after SA letter was given by EMA was 5 months. In the investigated trial registries, at least 18 trial (58% of 31 retrieved trials) designs were implemented with adaptive elements, which were predominantly dose selection, sample size reassessment (SSR) and stopping for futility (SFF). Among the 11 completed trials including adaptive elements, 6 demonstrated a significant treatment effect on their primary endpoint (55%). Conclusions: Adaptive designs are now well established in the drug development landscape. If properly pre-planned, adaptations can play a key role in the success of some of these trials, for example to help successfully select the most promising dose regimens for phase II/III trials. Interim analyses can also enable stopping of trials for futility when they do not hold their promises. Type I error rate control, trial integrity and results consistency between the different stages of the analyses are fundamental aspects to be discussed thoroughly. Engaging early dialogue with regulators and implementing the scientific advice received is strongly recommended, since much experience in discussing adaptive designs and assessing their results has been accumulated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number642
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2018


  • Clinical trials regulation
  • Interim analysis
  • Sample size re-assessment
  • Seamless phase II/III
  • Stopping for futility


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