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Background Trials to identify the minimal effective treatment duration are needed in different therapeutic areas, including bacterial infections, tuberculosis and hepatitis C. However, standard non-inferiority designs have several limitations, including arbitrariness of non-inferiority margins, choice of research arms and very large sample sizes. Methods We recast the problem of finding an appropriate non-inferior treatment duration in terms of modelling the entire duration-response curve within a pre-specified range. We propose a multi-arm randomised trial design, allocating patients to different treatment durations. We use fractional polynomials and spline-based methods to flexibly model the duration-response curve. We call this a 'Durations design'. We compare different methods in terms of a scaled version of the area between true and estimated prediction curves. We evaluate sensitivity to key design parameters, including sample size, number and position of arms. Results A total sample size of ~ 500 patients divided into a moderate number of equidistant arms (5-7) is sufficient to estimate the duration-response curve within a 5% error margin in 95% of the simulations. Fractional polynomials provide similar or better results than spline-based methods in most scenarios. Conclusion Our proposed practical randomised trial 'Durations design' shows promising performance in the estimation of the duration-response curve; subject to a pending careful investigation of its inferential properties, it provides a potential alternative to standard non-inferiority designs, avoiding many of their limitations, and yet being fairly robust to different possible duration-response curves. The trial outcome is the whole duration-response curve, which may be used by clinicians and policymakers to make informed decisions, facilitating a move away from a forced binary hypothesis testing paradigm.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Trials

Publication Date





477 - 488


Antimicrobial resistance, design, duration of therapy, flexible modelling, non-inferiority, randomised trial