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Development and validation of a prediction model for the probability of responding to placebo in antidepressant trials: a pooled analysis of individual patient data


Background Identifying potential placebo responders among apparent drug responders is critical to dissect drug-specific and nonspecific effects in depression.

Objective This project aimed to develop and test a prediction model for the probability of responding to placebo in antidepressant trials. Such a model will allow us to estimate the probability of placebo response among drug responders in antidepressants trials.

Methods We identified all placebo-controlled, double-blind randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of second generation antidepressants for major depressive disorder conducted in Japan and requested their individual patient data (IPD) to pharmaceutical companies. We obtained IPD (n=1493) from four phase II/III RCTs comparing mirtazapine, escitalopram, duloxetine, paroxetine and placebo. Out of 1493 participants in the four clinical trials, 440 participants allocated to placebo were included in the analyses. Our primary outcome was response, defined as 50% or greater reduction on Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression at study endpoint. We used multivariable logistic regression to develop a prediction model. All available candidate of predictor variables were tested through a backward variable selection and covariates were selected for the prediction model. The performance of the model was assessed by using Hosmer-Lemeshow test for calibration and the area under the ROC curve for discrimination.

Findings Placebo response rates differed between 31% and 59% (grand average: 43%) among four trials. Four variables were selected from all candidate variables and included in the final model: age at onset, age at baseline, bodily symptoms, and study-level difference. The final model performed satisfactorily in terms of calibration (Hosmer-Lemeshow p=0.92) and discrimination (the area under the ROC curve (AUC): 0.70).

Conclusions Our model is expected to help researchers discriminate individuals who are more likely to respond to placebo from those who are less likely so.

Clinical implications A larger sample and more precise individual participant information should be collected for better performance. Examination of external validity in independent datasets is warranted.

Trial registration number CRD42017055912.

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