Background Randomized trials of CKD treatments traditionally use clinical events late in CKD progression as end points. This requires costly studies with large sample sizes and long follow-up. Surrogate end points like GFR slope may speed up the evaluation of new therapies by enabling smaller studies with shorter follow-up. Methods We used statistical simulations to identify trial situations where GFR slope provides increased statistical power compared with the clinical end point of doubling of serum creatinine or kidney failure. We simulated GFR trajectories based on data from 47 randomized treatment comparisons. We evaluated the sample size required for adequate statistical power based on GFR slopes calculated from baseline and from 3 months follow-up. Results In most scenarios where the treatment has no acute effect, analyses of GFR slope provided similar or improved statistical power compared with the clinical end point, often allowing investigators to shorten follow-up by at least half while simultaneously reducing sample size. When patients’ GFRs are higher, the power advantages of GFR slope increase. However, acute treatment effects within several months of randomization can increase the risk of false conclusions about therapies based on GFR slope. Care is needed in study design and analysis to avoid such false conclusions. Conclusions Use of GFR slope can substantially increase statistical power compared with the clinical end point, particularly when baseline GFR is high and there is no acute effect. The optimum GFR-based end point depends on multiple factors including the rate of GFR decline, type of treatment effect and study design.
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