Statistical methods for unidirectional switch designs: Past, present, and future
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Clinical trials may apply or use a sequential introduction of a new treatment to determine its efficacy or effectiveness with respect to a control treatment. The reasons for choosing a particular switch design have different origins. For instance, they may be implemented for ethical or logistic reasons or for studying disease-modifying effects. Large-scale pragmatic trials with complex interventions often use stepped wedge designs (SWDs), where all participants start at the control group, and during the trial, the control treatment is switched to the new intervention at different moments. They typically use cross-sectional data and cluster randomization. On the other hand, new drugs for inhibition of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease typically use delayed start designs (DSDs). Here, participants start in a parallel group design and at a certain moment in the trial, (part of) the control group switches to the new treatment. The studies are longitudinal in nature, and individuals are being randomized. Statistical methods for these unidirectional switch designs (USD) are quite complex and incomparable, and they have been developed by various authors under different terminologies, model specifications, and assumptions. This imposes unnecessary barriers for researchers to compare results or choose the most appropriate method for their own needs. This paper provides an overview of past and current statistical developments for the USDs (SWD and DSD). All designs are formulated in a unified framework of treatment patterns to make comparisons between switch designs easier. The focus is primarily on statistical models, methods of estimation, sample size calculation, and optimal designs for estimation of the treatment effect. Other relevant open issues are being discussed as well to provide suggestions for future research in USDs.
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