Survival Extrapolation in Cancer Immunotherapy: A Validation-Based Case Study


Immune-checkpoint inhibitors may provide long-term survival benefits via a cured proportion, yet data are usually insufficient to prove this upon submission to health technology assessment bodies.
We revisited the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence assessment of ipilimumab in melanoma (TA319). We used updated data from the pivotal trial to assess the accuracy of the extrapolation methods used and compared these to previously unused techniques to establish whether an alternative extrapolation may have provided more accurate survival projections.
We compared projections from the piecewise survival model used in TA319 and those produced by alternative models (fit to trial data with minimum follow-up of 3 years) to a longer-term data cut (5-year follow-up). We also compared projections to external data to help assess validity. Alternative approaches considered were parametric, spline-based, mixture, and mixture-cure models.
Only the survival model used in TA319 and a mixture-cure model provided 5-year survival predictions close to those observed in the 5-year follow-up data set. Standard parametric, spline, and non–curative-mixture models substantially underestimated 5-year survival. Survival estimates from the TA319 model and the mixture-cure model diverge considerably after 5 years and remain unvalidated.
In our case study, only models that incorporated an element of external information (through a cure fraction combined with background mortality rates or using registry data) provided accurate estimates of 5-year survival. Flexible models that were able to capture the complex hazard functions observed during the trial, but which did not incorporate external information, extrapolated poorly.

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