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Surrogate end points in clinical research: hazardous to your health.

Surrogate end points in clinical research pose real danger. A surrogate end point is an outcome measure, commonly a laboratory test, that substitutes for a clinical event of true importance. Resistance to activated protein C, for example, has been used as a surrogate for venous thrombosis in women using oral contraceptives. Other examples of inappropriate surrogate end points in contraception include the postcoital test instead of pregnancy to evaluate new spermicides, breakage and slippage instead of pregnancy to evaluate condoms, and bone mineral density instead of fracture to assess the safety of depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate. None of these markers captures the effect of the treatment on the true outcome. A valid surrogate end point must both correlate with and accurately predict the outcome of interest. Although many surrogate markers correlate with an outcome, few have been shown to capture the effect of a treatment (for example, oral contraceptives) on the outcome (venous thrombosis). As a result, thousands of useless and misleading reports on surrogate end points litter the medical literature. New drugs have been shown to benefit a surrogate marker, but, paradoxically, triple the risk of death. Thousands of patients have died needlessly because of reliance on invalid surrogate markers. Researchers should avoid surrogate end points unless they have been validated; that requires at least one well done trial using both the surrogate and true outcome. The clinical maxim that "a difference to be a difference must make a difference" applies to research as well. Clinical research should focus on outcomes that matter.[1]

References

  1. Surrogate end points in clinical research: hazardous to your health. Grimes, D.A., Schulz, K.F. Obstetrics and gynecology. (2005) [Pubmed]
 
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