Background Surrogate endpoint trials test strategies more efficiently but are accompanied by uncertainty about the relationship between changes in surrogate markers and clinical outcomes.
Methods and Results We identified cardiovascular trials with primary surrogate endpoints published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, and JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association from 1990 to 2011 and determined the trends in publication of surrogate endpoint trials and the success of the trials in meeting their primary endpoints. We tracked for publication of clinical outcome trials on the interventions tested in surrogate trials. We screened 3016 articles and identified 220 surrogate endpoint trials. From the total of 220 surrogate trials, 157 (71.4%) were positive for their primary endpoint. Only 59 (26.8%) surrogate trials had a subsequent clinical outcomes trial. Among these 59 trials, 24 outcomes trial results validated the positive surrogates, whereas 20 subsequent outcome trials were negative following positive results on a surrogate. We identified only 3 examples in which the surrogate trial was negative but a subsequent outcomes trial was conducted and showed benefit. Findings were consistent in a sample cohort of 383 screened articles inclusive of 37 surrogate endpoint trials from 6 other high‐impact journals.
Conclusions Although cardiovascular surrogate outcomes trials frequently show superiority of the tested intervention, they are infrequently followed by a prominent outcomes trial. When there was a high‐profile clinical outcomes study, nearly half of the positive surrogate trials were not validated. Cardiovascular surrogate outcome trials may be more appropriate for excluding benefit from the patient perspective than for identifying it.