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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding the Use of Composite Endpoints in Clinical Trials

  • Author(s): McCoy, C. Eric;
  • et al.

Clinicians, institutions, healthcare networks, and policymakers use outcomes reported in clinical trials as the basis for medical decision-making when managing individual patients or populations. Therefore, the choice of a valid primary endpoint is crucial for randomized controlled trials (RCT) to demonstrate efficacy of new therapies. Recent improvements in treatment, however, have led to a decline in the morbidity and mortality of several common diseases, resulting in a reduction in relevant outcomes that can be used as clinical trial endpoints. Composite endpoints have been used as a solution to maintain the feasibility of RCTs, particularly when facing low event rates, high cost, and long follow-up. However, the benefits of using composite endpoints must be weighed against the risks of misinterpretation by clinicians and policymakers, as incorrect interpretation may have a detrimental effect on patients and populations. This paper defines a composite endpoint, discusses the rationale for its use, and provides a practical approach to interpreting results to aid in medical decision-making.

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