Advantages of Bayesian monitoring methods in deciding whether and when to stop a clinical trial: an example of a neonatal cooling trial
Background Decisions to stop randomized trials are often based on traditional P value thresholds and are often unconvincing to clinicians. To familiarize clinical investigators with the application and advantages of Bayesian monitoring methods, we illustrate the steps of Bayesian interim analysis using a recent major trial that was stopped based on frequentist analysis of safety and futility. Methods We conducted Bayesian reanalysis of a factorial trial in newborn infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy that was designed to investigate whether outcomes would be improved by deeper (32 °C) or longer cooling (120 h), as compared with those achieved by standard whole body cooling (33.5 °C for 72 h). Using prior trial data, we developed neutral and enthusiastic prior probabilities for the effect on predischarge mortality, defined stopping guidelines for a clinically meaningful effect, and derived posterior probabilities for predischarge mortality. Results Bayesian relative risk estimates for predischarge mortality were closer to 1.0 than were frequentist estimates. Posterior probabilities suggested increased predischarge mortality (relative risk > 1.0) for the three intervention groups; two crossed the Bayesian futility threshold. Conclusions Bayesian analysis incorporating previous trial results and different pre-existing opinions can help interpret accruing data and facilitate informed stopping decisions that are likely to be meaningful and convincing to clinicians, meta-analysts, and guideline developers.