The strength of association between surrogate end points and survival in oncology is important to understand because surrogate end points are frequently used in oncology clinical trials, supporting US Food and Drug Administration approvals and National Comprehensive Cancer Network guideline recommendations.
To identify and evaluate trial-level meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials quantifying the association between a surrogate end point and overall survival in medical oncology. Trial-level correlations test whether treatments that improve the surrogate end point also improve the final end point and are widely considered the strongest evidence to validate a surrogate end point.
Our literature search was built on earlier reported data sets and updated with Google Scholar and MEDLINE searches conducted on December 26, 2014. For MEDLINE, search terms included (“regression” or “correlation”) and “surrogate” and “end point [or endpoint]” and (“oncology” or “cancer”). For Google scholar, search terms included (“regression” or “correlation”) and “surrogate end point [or endpoint]” and “overall survival” and “trial level.” A total of 108 abstracts were retrieved, and 62 articles were read in full in addition to articles identified through prior reviews.
We found 36 articles in which 65 specific correlations between a surrogate end point and survival were identified. Surrogate end points were studied in the neoadjuvant, adjuvant, locally advanced, and metastatic settings. The most common sources for trials included in the 36 articles were systematic reviews of the published literature (10 of 36; 28%), and published literature and meeting abstracts (14 of 36; 39%). Four meta-analyses (11%) used a convenience sample, and only 5 studies (14%) attempted to include unpublished trials by surveying clinical trial registries. Among these 5 studies, only 352 of 684 eligible trials (51.1%) were included in the analyses. More than half of reported correlations (34 of 65; 52%) were of low strength (r ≤ 0.7). Approximately a quarter (16 of 65; 25%) were of medium strength (r > 0.7 to r < 0.85), and 15 of 65 (23%) were highly correlated (r ≥ 0.85) with survival.
Conclusions and Relevance
Most trial-level validation studies of surrogate end points in oncology find low correlations with survival. All validation studies use only a subset of available trials. The evidence supporting the use of surrogate end points in oncology is limited.