Network meta-analysis incorporating randomized controlled trials and non-randomized comparative cohort studies
Network meta-analysis is increasingly used to allow comparison of multiple treatment alternatives simultaneously, some of which may not have been compared directly in primary research studies. The majority of network meta-analyses published to date have incorporated data from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) only; however, inclusion of non-randomized studies may sometimes be considered. Non-randomized studies can complement RCTs or address some of their limitations, such as short follow-up time, small sample size, highly selected population, high cost, and ethical restrictions. In this paper, we discuss the challenges and opportunities of incorporating both RCTs and non-randomized comparative cohort studies into network meta-analysis for assessing the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments. Non-randomized studies with inadequate control of biases such as confounding may threaten the validity of the entire network meta-analysis. Therefore, identification and inclusion of non-randomized studies must balance their strengths with their limitations. Inclusion of both RCTs and non-randomized studies in network meta-analysis will likely increase in the future due to the growing need to assess multiple treatments simultaneously, the availability of higher quality non-randomized data and more valid methods, and the increased use of progressive licensing and product listing agreements requiring collection of data over the life cycle of medical products. Inappropriate inclusion of non-randomized studies could perpetuate the biases that are unknown, unmeasured, or uncontrolled. However, thoughtful integration of randomized and nonrandomized studies may offer opportunities to provide more timely, comprehensive, and generalizable evidence about the comparative safety and effectiveness of medical treatments.
Cameron C, Fireman B, Clifford T, Coyle D, Hutton B, Wells G, Dormuth CR, Platt RW, Toh, S. Network meta-analysis incorporating randomized controlled trials and non-randomized comparative cohort studies for assessing the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments: Challenges and opportunities. Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 5;4(1):147.