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BACKGROUND: Randomised controlled trials are designed to assess the superiority, equivalence or non-inferiority of a new health technology, but which trial design should be used is not always obvious in practice. In particular, when using equivalence or non-inferiority designs, multiple outcomes of interest may be important for the success of a trial, despite the fact that usually only a single primary outcome is used to design the trial. Benefit-risk methods are used in the regulatory clinical trial setting to assess multiple outcomes and consider the trade-off of the benefits against the risks, but are not regularly implemented in publicly funded trials. OBJECTIVES: The aim of the project is to aid the design of clinical trials with multiple outcomes of interest by defining when each trial design is appropriate to use and identifying when to use benefit-risk methods to assess outcome trade-offs (qualitatively or quantitatively) in a publicly funded trial setting. METHODS: A range of methods was used to elicit expert opinion to answer the project objectives, including a web-based survey of relevant researchers, a rapid review of current literature and a 2-day consensus workshop of experts (in 2019). RESULTS: We created a list of 19 factors to aid researchers in selecting the most appropriate trial design, containing the following overarching sections: population, intervention, comparator, outcomes, feasibility and perspectives. Six key reasons that indicate a benefit-risk method should be considered within a trial were identified: (1) when the success of the trial depends on more than one outcome; (2) when important outcomes within the trial are in competing directions (i.e. a health technology is better for one outcome, but worse for another); (3) to allow patient preferences to be included and directly influence trial results; (4) to provide transparency on subjective recommendations from a trial; (5) to provide consistency in the approach to presenting results from a trial; and (6) to synthesise multiple outcomes into a single metric. Further information was provided to support the use of benefit-risk methods in appropriate circumstances, including the following: methods identified from the review were collated into different groupings and described to aid the selection of a method; potential implementation of methods throughout the trial process were provided and discussed (with examples); and general considerations were described for those using benefit-risk methods. Finally, a checklist of five pieces of information that should be present when reporting benefit-risk methods was defined, with two additional items specifically for reporting the results. CONCLUSIONS: These recommendations will assist research teams in selecting which trial design to use and deciding whether or not a benefit-risk method could be included to ensure research questions are answered appropriately. Additional information is provided to support consistent use and clear reporting of benefit-risk methods in the future. The recommendations can also be used by funding committees to confirm that appropriate considerations of the trial design have been made. LIMITATIONS: This research was limited in scope and should be considered in conjunction with other trial design methodologies to assess appropriateness. In addition, further research is needed to provide concrete information about which benefit-risk methods are best to use in publicly funded trials, along with recommendations that are specific to each method. STUDY REGISTRATION: The rapid review is registered as PROSPERO CRD42019144882. FUNDING: Funded by the Medical Research Council UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research as part of the Medical Research Council-National Institute for Health and Care Research Methodology Research programme.

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Journal article


Health technol assess

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