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Impact of potential modifications to Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials in response to disruption by COVID-19: a simulation study



The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Alzheimer disease randomized clinical trials (RCTs), forcing investigators to make changes in the conduct of such trials while endeavoring to maintain their validity. Changing ongoing RCTs carries risks for biases and threats to validity. To understand the impact of exigent modifications due to COVID-19, we examined several scenarios in symptomatic and disease modification trials that could be made.


We identified both symptomatic and disease modification Alzheimer disease RCTs as exemplars of those that would be affected by the pandemic and considered the types of changes that sponsors could make to each. We modeled three scenarios for each of the types of trials using existing datasets, adjusting enrollment, follow-ups, and dropouts to examine the potential effects COVID-19-related changes. Simulations were performed that accounted for completion and dropout patterns using linear mixed effects models, modeling time as continuous and categorical. The statistical power of the scenarios was determined.


Truncating both symptomatic and disease modification trials led to underpowered trials. By contrast, adapting the trials by extending the treatment period, temporarily stopping treatment, delaying outcomes assessments, and performing remote assessment allowed for increased statistical power nearly to the level originally planned.


These analyses support the idea that disrupted trials under common scenarios are better continued and extended even in the face of dropouts, treatment disruptions, missing outcomes, and other exigencies and that adaptations can be made that maintain the trials' validity. We suggest some adaptive methods to do this noting that some changes become under-powered to detect the original effect sizes and expected outcomes. These analyses provide insight to better plan trials that are resilient to unexpected changes to the medical, social, and political milieu.

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