A Contextual-bandit-based Approach for Informed Decision-making in Clinical Trials
Clinical trials involving multiple treatments utilize randomization of the treatment assignments to enable the evaluation of treatment efficacies in an unbiased manner. Such evaluation is performed in post hoc studies that usually use supervised-learning methods that rely on large amounts of data collected in a randomized fashion. That approach often proves to be suboptimal in that some participants may suffer and even die as a result of having not received the most appropriate treatments
... the trial. Reinforcement-learning methods improve the situation by making it possible to learn the treatment efficacies dynamically during the course of the trial, and to adapt treatment assignments accordingly. Recent efforts using multi-arm bandits, a type of reinforcement-learning methods, have focused on maximizing clinical outcomes for a population that was assumed to be homogeneous. However, those approaches have failed to account for the variability among participants that is becoming increasingly evident as a result of recent clinical-trial-based studies. We present a contextual-bandit-based online treatment optimization algorithm that, in choosing treatments for new participants in the study, takes into account not only the maximization of the clinical outcomes but also the patient characteristics. We evaluated our algorithm using a real clinical trial dataset from the International Stroke Trial. The results of our retrospective analysis indicate that the proposed approach performs significantly better than either a random assignment of treatments (the current gold standard) or a multi-arm-bandit-based approach, providing substantial gains in the percentage of participants who are assigned the most suitable treatments. The contextual-bandit and multi-arm bandit approaches provide 72.63 gains, respectively, compared to a random assignment.