Optimising trial designs to identify appropriate antibiotic treatment durations

Koen B. Pouwels*, Mo Yin, Christopher C. Butler, Ben S. Cooper, Sarah Wordsworth, A. Sarah Walker, Julie Robotham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: For many infectious conditions, the optimal antibiotic course length remains unclear. The estimation of course length must consider the important trade-off between maximising short- and long-term efficacy and minimising antibiotic resistance and toxicity. Main body: Evidence on optimal treatment durations should come from randomised controlled trials. However, most antibiotic randomised controlled trials compare two arbitrarily chosen durations. We argue that alternative trial designs, which allow allocation of patients to multiple different treatment durations, are needed to better identify optimal antibiotic durations. There are important considerations when deciding which design is most useful in identifying optimal treatment durations, including the ability to model the duration-response relationship (or duration-response 'curve'), the risk of allocation concealment bias, statistical efficiency, the possibility to rapidly drop arms that are clearly inferior, and the possibility of modelling the trade-off between multiple competing outcomes. Conclusion: Multi-arm designs modelling duration-response curves with the possibility to drop inferior arms during the trial could provide more information about the optimal duration of antibiotic therapies than traditional head-to-head comparisons of limited numbers of durations, while minimising the probability of assigning trial participants to an ineffective treatment regimen.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Antibiotics
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Bayesian
  • Design
  • Duration of therapy
  • Frequentist
  • Randomised trial


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