Testing a Primary and a Secondary Endpoint in a Group Sequential Design

Ajit C. Tamhane*, Cyrus R. Mehta, Lingyun Liu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


We consider a clinical trial with a primary and a secondary endpoint where the secondary endpoint is tested only if the primary endpoint is significant. The trial uses a group sequential procedure with two stages. The familywise error rate (FWER) of falsely concluding significance on either endpoint is to be controlled at a nominal level α. The type I error rate for the primary endpoint is controlled by choosing any α-level stopping boundary, e.g., the standard O'Brien-Fleming or the Pocock boundary. Given any particular α-level boundary for the primary endpoint, we study the problem of determining the boundary for the secondary endpoint to control the FWER. We study this FWER analytically and numerically and find that it is maximized when the correlation coefficient ρ between the two endpoints equals 1. For the four combinations consisting of O'Brien-Fleming and Pocock boundaries for the primary and secondary endpoints, the critical constants required to control the FWER are computed for different values of ρ. An ad hoc boundary is proposed for the secondary endpoint to address a practical concern that may be at issue in some applications. Numerical studies indicate that the O'Brien-Fleming boundary for the primary endpoint and the Pocock boundary for the secondary endpoint generally gives the best primary as well as secondary power performance. The Pocock boundary may be replaced by the ad hoc boundary for the secondary endpoint with a very little loss of secondary power if the practical concern is at issue. A clinical trial example is given to illustrate the methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1174-1184
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Familywise error rate
  • Gatekeeping procedures
  • Multiple comparisons
  • Multiple endpoints
  • O'Brien-Fleming boundary
  • Pocock boundary
  • Primary power
  • Secondary power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Statistics and Probability


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