Surrogacy assessment using principal stratification and a Gaussian copula model

In clinical trials, a surrogate outcome (S) can be measured before the outcome of interest (T) and may provide early information regarding the treatment (Z) effect on T. Many methods of surrogacy validation rely on models for the conditional distribution of T given Z and S. However, S is a post-randomization variable, and unobserved, simultaneous predictors of S and T may exist, resulting in a non-causal interpretation. Frangakis and Rubin developed the concept of principal surrogacy, stratifying on the joint distribution of the surrogate marker under treatment and control to assess the association between the causal effects of treatment on the marker and the causal effects of treatment on the clinical outcome. Working within the principal surrogacy framework, we address the scenario of an ordinal categorical variable as a surrogate for a censored failure time true endpoint. A Gaussian copula model is used to model the joint distribution of the potential outcomes of T, given the potential outcomes of S. Because the proposed model cannot be fully identified from the data, we use a Bayesian estimation approach with prior distributions consistent with reasonable assumptions in the surrogacy assessment setting. The method is applied to data from a colorectal cancer clinical trial, previously analyzed by Burzykowski et al.