A number of papers have proposed or evaluated the delayed-start design as an alternative to the standard two-arm parallel group randomized clinical trial (RCT) design in the field of rare disease. However the discussion is felt to lack a sufficient degree of consideration devoted to the true virtues of the delayed start design and the implications either in terms of required sample-size, overall information, or interpretation of the estimate in the context of small populations.
To evaluate whether there are real advantages of the delayed-start design particularly in terms of overall efficacy and sample size requirements as a proposed alternative to the standard parallel group RCT in the field of rare disease.
We used a real-life example to compare the delayed-start design with the standard RCT in terms of sample size requirements. Then, based on three scenarios regarding the development of the treatment effect over time, the advantages, limitations and potential costs of the delayed-start design are discussed.
We clarify that delayed-start design is not suitable for drugs that establish an immediate treatment effect, but for drugs with effects developing over time, instead. In addition, the sample size will always increase as an implication for a reduced time on placebo resulting in a decreased treatment effect.
A number of papers have repeated well-known arguments to justify the delayed-start design as appropriate alternative to the standard parallel group RCT in the field of rare disease and do not discuss the specific needs of research methodology in this field. The main point is that a limited time on placebo will result in an underestimated treatment effect and, in consequence, in larger sample size requirements compared to those expected under a standard parallel-group design. This also impacts on benefit-risk assessment.