Master protocols, classified as basket trials, umbrella trials, and platform trials, are novel designs that investigate multiple hypotheses through concurrent sub-studies (e.g., multiple treatments or populations or that allow adding/removing arms during the trial), offering enhanced efficiency and a more ethical approach to trial evaluation. Despite the many advantages of these designs, they are infrequently used.
We conducted a landscape analysis of master protocols using a systematic literature search to determine what trials have been conducted and proposed for an overall goal of improving the literacy in this emerging concept. On July 8, 2019, English-language studies were identified from MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL databases and hand searches of published reviews and registries.
We identified 83 master protocols (49 basket, 18 umbrella, and 16 platform trials). The number of master protocols has increased rapidly over the last five years. Most have been conducted in the US (
n= 44/83) and investigated experimental drugs ( n= 82/83) in the field of oncology ( n= 76/83). The majority of basket trials were exploratory (i.e., phase I/II; n= 47/49) and not randomized ( n= 44/49), and more than half ( n= 28/48) investigated only a single intervention. The median sample size of basket trials was 205 participants (interquartile range, Q3-Q1 [IQR]: 500–90 = 410), and the median study duration was 22.3 (IQR: 74.1–42.9 = 31.1) months. Similar to basket trials, most umbrella trials were exploratory ( n= 16/18), but the use of randomization was more common ( n= 8/18). The median sample size of umbrella trials was 346 participants (IQR: 565–252 = 313), and the median study duration was 60.9 (IQR: 81.3–46.9 = 34.4) months. The median number of interventions investigated in umbrella trials was 5 (IQR: 6–4 = 2). The majority of platform trials were randomized ( n= 15/16), and phase III investigation ( n= 7/15; one did not report information on phase) was more common in platform trials with four of them using seamless II/III design. The median sample size was 892 (IQR: 1835–255 = 1580), and the median study duration was 58.9 (IQR: 101.3–36.9 = 64.4) months. Conclusions
We anticipate that the number of master protocols will continue to increase at a rapid pace over the upcoming decades. More efforts to improve awareness and training are needed to apply these innovative trial design methods to fields outside of oncology.