Tjeerd-Pieter van Staa and colleagues estimate the likely cost effectiveness of selective Cox-2 inhibitors prescribed during routine clinical practice, as compared to the cost effectiveness predicted from randomized controlled trial data.
Data on absolute risks of outcomes and patterns of drug use in cost-effectiveness analyses are often based on randomised clinical trials (RCTs). The objective of this study was to evaluate the external validity of published cost-effectiveness studies by comparing the data used in these studies (typically based on RCTs) to observational data from actual clinical practice. Selective Cox-2 inhibitors (coxibs) were used as an example.
Methods and Findings
The UK General Practice Research Database (GPRD) was used to estimate the exposure characteristics and individual probabilities of upper gastrointestinal (GI) events during current exposure to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or coxibs. A basic cost-effectiveness model was developed evaluating two alternative strategies: prescription of a conventional NSAID or coxib. Outcomes included upper GI events as recorded in GPRD and hospitalisation for upper GI events recorded in the national registry of hospitalisations (Hospital Episode Statistics) linked to GPRD. Prescription costs were based on the prescribed number of tables as recorded in GPRD and the 2006 cost data from the British National Formulary. The study population included over 1 million patients prescribed conventional NSAIDs or coxibs. Only a minority of patients used the drugs long-term and daily (34.5% of conventional NSAIDs and 44.2% of coxibs), whereas coxib RCTs required daily use for at least 6–9 months. The mean cost of preventing one upper GI event as recorded in GPRD was US$104k (ranging from US$64k with long-term daily use to US$182k with intermittent use) and US$298k for hospitalizations. The mean costs (for GPRD events) over calendar time were US$58k during 1990–1993 and US$174k during 2002–2005. Using RCT data rather than GPRD data for event probabilities, the mean cost was US$16k with the VIGOR RCT and US$20k with the CLASS RCT.
The published cost-effectiveness analyses of coxibs lacked external validity, did not represent patients in actual clinical practice, and should not have been used to inform prescribing policies. External validity should be an explicit requirement for cost-effectiveness analyses.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Before a new treatment for a specific disease becomes an established part of clinical practice, it goes through a long process of development and clinical testing. This process starts with extensive studies of the new treatment in the laboratory and in animals and then moves into clinical trials. The most important of these trials are randomized controlled trials (RCTs), studies in which the efficacy and safety of the new drug and an established drug are compared by giving the two drugs to randomized groups of patients with the disease. The final hurdle that a drug or any other healthcare technology often has to jump before being adopted for widespread clinical use is a health technology assessment, which aims to provide policymakers, clinicians, and patients with information about the balance between the clinical and financial costs of the drug and its benefits (its cost-effectiveness). In England and Wales, for example, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which promotes clinical excellence and the effective use of resources within the National Health Service, routinely commissions such assessments.
Why Was This Study Done?
Data on the risks of various outcomes associated with a new treatment are needed for cost-effectiveness analyses. These data are usually obtained from RCTs, but although RCTs are the best way of determining a drug's potency in experienced hands under ideal conditions (its efficacy), they may not be a good way to determine a drug's success in an average clinical setting (its effectiveness). In this study, the researchers compare the data from RCTs that have been used in several published cost-effectiveness analyses of a class of drugs called selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors (“coxibs”) with observational data from actual clinical practice. They then ask whether the published cost-effectiveness studies, which generally used RCT data, should have been used to inform coxib prescribing policies. Coxibs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that were developed in the 1990s to treat arthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Conventional NSAIDs can cause gastric ulcers and bleeding from the gut (upper gastrointestinal events) if taken for a long time. The use of coxibs avoids this problem.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on the real-life use of conventional NSAIDs and coxibs and on the incidence of upper gastrointestinal events from the UK General Practice Research Database (GPRD) and from the national registry of hospitalizations. Only a minority of the million patients who were prescribed conventional NSAIDs (average cost per prescription US$17.80) or coxibs (average cost per prescription US$47.04) for a variety of inflammatory conditions took them on a long-term daily basis, whereas in the RCTs of coxibs, patients with a few carefully defined conditions took NSAIDs daily for at least 6–9 months. The researchers then developed a cost-effectiveness model to evaluate the costs of the alternative strategies of prescribing a conventional NSAID or a coxib. The mean additional cost of preventing one gastrointestinal event recorded in the GPRD by using a coxib instead of a NSAID, they report, was US$104,000; the mean cost of preventing one hospitalization for such an event was US$298,000. By contrast, the mean cost of preventing one gastrointestinal event by using a coxib instead of a NSAID calculated from data obtained in RCTs was about US$20,000.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the published cost-effectiveness analyses of coxibs greatly underestimate the cost of preventing gastrointestinal events by replacing prescriptions of conventional NSAIDs with prescriptions of coxibs. That is, if data from actual clinical practice had been used in cost-effectiveness analyses rather than data from RCTs, the conclusions of the published cost-effectiveness analyses of coxibs would have been radically different and may have led to different prescribing guidelines for this class of drug. More generally, these findings provide a good illustration of how important it is to ensure that cost-effectiveness analyses have “external” validity by using realistic estimates for event rates and costs rather than relying on data from RCTs that do not always reflect the real-world situation. The researchers suggest, therefore, that health technology assessments should move from evaluating cost-efficacy in ideal populations with ideal interventions to evaluating cost-effectiveness in real populations with real interventions.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000194.
The UK National Institute for Health Research provides information about health technology assessment
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Web site describes how this organization provides guidance on promoting good health within the England and Wales National Health Service
Information on the UK General Practice Research Database is available
Wikipedia has pages on health technology assessment and on selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)