A simulation study of the effects of small center enrollment in multi-center clinical trials

Jaye Lynne Thompson, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Multi-center clinical trials are very common in the development of new drugs and devices. One concern in such trials, is the effect of individual investigational sites enrolling small numbers of patients on the overall result. Can the presence of small centers cause an ineffective treatment to appear effective when treatment-by-center interaction is not statistically significant? In this research, simulations are used to study the effect that centers enrolling few patients may have on the analysis of clinical trial data. A multi-center clinical trial with 20 sites is simulated to investigate the effect of a new treatment in comparison to a placebo treatment. Twelve of these 20 investigational sites are considered small, each enrolling less than four patients per treatment group. Three clinical trials are simulated with sample sizes of 100, 170 and 300. The simulated data is generated with various characteristics, one in which treatment should be considered effective and another where treatment is not effective. Qualitative interactions are also produced within the small sites to further investigate the effect of small centers under various conditions. Standard analysis of variance methods and the "sometimes-pool" testing procedure are applied to the simulated data. One model investigates treatment and center effect and treatment-by-center interaction. Another model investigates treatment effect alone. These analyses are used to determine the power to detect treatment-by-center interactions, and the probability of type I error. We find it is difficult to detect treatment-by-center interactions when only a few investigational sites enrolling a limited number of patients participate in the interaction. However, we find no increased risk of type I error in these situations. In a pooled analysis, when the treatment is not effective, the probability of finding a significant treatment effect in the absence of significant treatment-by-center interaction is well within standard limits of type I error.

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Recommended Citation

Thompson, Jaye Lynne, "A simulation study of the effects of small center enrollment in multi-center clinical trials" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9700055.