Christina Donatti PhD, Oxford Outcomes Ltd., Oxford, UK; Diane Wild MSc, Oxford Outcomes Ltd., Oxford, UK; and
Asha Hareendran PhD, Pfizer Ltd., Sandwich, UK
The Use of Conceptual Models, Conceptual Frameworks
and Endpoint Models to Support Label Claims of
Treatment Benefit Using Patient Reported Outcomes
A range of new, though poorly-defined terminology has been used when
proposing label claims about patient reported outcome (PRO) endpoints
to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The terms 'conceptual model',
'endpoint model', and 'conceptual framework' are now requirements from
some regulators when considering PRO labelling claims.
Graphic models can be used to provide a visual picture of interrelationships
between concepts and endpoints. They can be used as frameworks for discussion,
to select and refine research questions and to demonstrate the context
for a treatment benefit claim. While conceptual models, frameworks, and
endpoint models have been discussed in the context of research to support
PRO label claims, the nuances among them have not been made clear.
What is a 'Conceptual Model'?
Conceptual models in health education research have been defined as 'diagrams
of proposed causal linkages among a set of concepts believed to be
related to a particular public health problem [/disease] … the conceptual
models…show…the small part of the causal web selected for study.…They
often are informed by more than one theory, as well as by empirical findings'
. A conceptual model provides a visual picture that represents the
research question which is to be investigated. The best models convey complex
information in a way that is not only parsimonious but also permits a
quick grasp of complicated relationships. For example, a conceptual model
can be used to delineate the various concepts that are relevant in a particular
disease or condition and the hypothesised links between the concepts, or
to provide a framework from which potential targets for treatment can be
selected. A conceptual model can guide our choice of what to measure and
how to measure it, and provide a context for interpreting the findings. 
In 1995 Wilson and Cleary published a conceptual model for health-related
quality of life (HRQoL) which integrated both biological and psychological
aspects of health outcomes. They proposed five different levels in their
model, namely physiological factors, symptom status, functional health,
general health perceptions and overall quality of life. They defined their conceptual
model as ' …a taxonomy of patient outcomes… according to the
underlying health concepts they represent and proposes specific causal relationships between different health concepts' . The Wilson-Cleary
Conceptual Model of HRQoL is captured in figure 1. As the reader moves
from left to right of the model, the nature of the concepts shifts from the cell
toward the individual, and then to the interaction of the individual as a member
A conceptual model is valuable in terms of its ability to facilitate the exploration
of a disease area, identify potential treatment benefits, and can also
help with the selection of endpoints to evaluate treatment benefit.
Material that can be used to help identify the interrelationships between concepts
and outcomes for a conceptual model could include a review of scientific
literature, key opinion leader interviews and interviews with patients in
the disease area of interest. These should ideally be developed very early on
in drug development (phase I and II) to facilitate the development of measurement
strategies for endpoints used to support a treatment benefit claim.
A conceptual model can be used to explore the patient perspective of a disease
and can help identify/target the aspects that need to be addressed.
Such conceptual models could be used to demonstrate the relevance and
meaningfulness of patient centred outcomes for measuring treatment benefits
in a specific disease or condition. They would be especially useful for
discussions with regulatory agencies about treatment benefit claims based
on patient reported outcomes.
An example of a conceptual model for Atrial Fibrillation (AF), developed
based on a review of literature, is proposed in Figure 2. AF is “characterised
by uncoordinated atrial activation with consequent deterioration of atrial
mechanical functioning” . A review of scientific literature revealed that the
physical symptoms and implications of AF have two primary effects on
health-related quality of life. AF patients may experience significant limitations
in their daily activities as a result of some or all of the physical AF
symptoms. Symptoms such as persistent light-headedness, dizziness, pain,
and breathing difficulties make employment, travel, and operating a vehicle
extremely difficult for AF patients. Moreover, mobility is also impaired in AF
patients (beyond the limitations caused by the observable symptoms)
because of the exercise intolerance caused by reduced cardiac output. These
limitations also have an impact on the patient's social network and may create
a feeling of isolation, while the physical symptoms may limit sexual relations.
A further implication of AF on HRQoL relates to patients hearing and
feeling the heart palpitations or arrhythmias themselves. While objectively
physically harmless, the feeling of an irregular, thumping heartbeat may
cause insomnia, mental disturbance, anxiety and fear .
Based on these findings a model can be devised that covers some of these
HRQoL concepts as demonstrated in Figure 2. This model may need to be
modified or elaborated based on additional input from patients and clinicians
to further map out or validate the impacts of AF on HRQoL.
The next step would be to identify which aspects of the conceptual model are
likely to be impacted as a result of a specific treatment or product, i.e. the
specific 'treatment benefit claims' that are being pursued. In drug development
terms, decision making about treatment benefit claims are usually guided
by both the potential attributes of the product and an understanding of
market needs. It is important to consider who the key customers will be
when considering 'messages' about treatment benefit. For example, if the
product is for use in a paediatric asthma population then the key customers
are parents of children with asthma; if the indication is in the treatment of
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), then this would be health care professionals
treating TBI; if the indication is the treatment of hay-fever, then the patients
themselves are the key customer. In essence, the claim should drive the
development of the measurement strategy for evaluating treatments.
Regulatory agencies require substantial evidence to support a label claim. To
support a treatment benefit claim, more than one endpoint may need to be
measured in clinical trials. For example, the EMEA CHMP guidance  for the
evaluation of products for maintenance treatments for asthma requires both
lung function and patient reported symptom endpoints to be assessed. The
endpoints and relationships between them can be graphically depicted using
an endpoint model.
What is an 'Endpoint Model'?
An endpoint model is a model of the relationships between all measures that
may be defined as endpoints (primary or supportive) in a clinical trial. It helps
to clarify the appropriate endpoint which can be used to describe particular
treatment benefit claims. Early in product development, a preliminary endpoint
model that specifies the hierarchy and hypothesised relationships
between the end-points will facilitate communication with the FDA .
The endpoint model is developed based on a systematic/comprehensive
review of disease literature, where this is available. The conceptual model,
clinical experts and PRO researchers are useful and valid reference points The product development team who have a scientific understanding of the
drug under development and understand the proposed benefits to the patient
would be key players for the selection of endpoints to evaluate in a clinical
trial. These decisions are ideally made in the context of the target product
profile for the product. The draft PRO Guidance Document states that “sponsors
[need] to identify all endpoint measurement goals early in product
development before studies are initiated” . We recommend that the development
of the endpoint model occurs at pre-phase II and be revised through
the life-cycle of product development.
An endpoint model should include all the concepts that contribute to the evaluation
of endpoints that are used to support a treatment benefit claim. The
endpoints can be measured using physiological, patient and/or clinician
reported outcome measures. The endpoint model should also specify the
expected relationships between the endpoints. These linkages would in turn
inform the statistical testing strategy for the clinical trial. In Figure 3 we propose
a simplified endpoint model for a hypothetical drug for the treatment of
AF. It links the desired claim, with the concept being identified and the instrument
needed to properly establish if the claim is being effectively measured.
Once the endpoint model has been agreed, the next step is to determine the
strategy to measure each endpoint in the clinical trial. It is useful to understand
the concepts that make up an endpoint to ensure that the tools selected
provide comprehensive and supportive data.
What is an 'Endpoint Model'?
A conceptual framework has sometimes been referred to as a content map/
measurement model. Its purpose is to demonstrate the expected relationships
between items within a domain, and of domains within a PRO tool. A
conceptual framework is developed by reviewing the literature that has previously
been used to justify the tool and the domains being measured. If the
literature does not provide sufficient information, the conceptual framework
needs to be developed and validated.
Where existing measures are used or revised, there is usually some evidence
which sets out the objective of the instrument and information regarding
whether it contains distinct domains measuring distinct concepts, and
whether a total score can be derived. From the information available, the conceptual
framework should be drafted and validated using a combination of
qualitative and quantitative methods. Focus groups with patients, item reduction
interviews, factor analysis and other psychometric techniques could aid
the revision and validation of a conceptual framework.
The draft PRO Guidance sets out the template of the conceptual framework
 and is clearly explained in the draft Guidance. It discusses in detail what
is expected in terms of developing and validating a conceptual framework for
a new or existing PRO measure. Thus, if we were to select an endpoint (e.g.
psychological well-being) for evaluation from the conceptual model proposed
in Figure 2 relating to atrial fibrillation (AF), it would be necessary to
carry out the steps outlined in the draft guidance for developing conceptual
frameworks. These include using expert and patient input, drafting items,
cognitive debriefing of the item list and psychometric validation.
Following on with our previous example using AF, an article on the development
of an AF HRQoL questionnaire has been published. The article outlines
the steps used by the authors to develop the measure and concludes with an
18 item questionnaire . Figure 4 presents the conceptual framework of the
In conclusion, endpoint models and conceptual frameworks can be used to
support treatment benefit claims.
Ideally the claims should be considered when the 'product concept' is conceived.
To develop a measurement strategy to support a label claim, it is useful
to review the conceptual model(s) of the disease and its treatments, to help
identify the endpoints that support the treatment benefit claim. Seeking input
from patients and clinicians helps to ensure the content validity. The conceptual
model can be used to support discussions with the internal commercial
and clinical teams (as part of generating the target product profile (TPP) ).
Determining the treatment benefit claims can help to address any unmet
needs and present claims which are meaningful for key customers.
When PRO endpoints are proposed to evaluate a particular treatment benefit,
a conceptual framework for the PRO instrument helps to describe the
concepts/domains/items and the links between them that contribute to the
evaluation of the endpoint. The endpoint model and conceptual framework(s)
will inform the study design, analysis plans, and hierarchy of testing which
are used to support the claim. Importantly, the strategy which is embarked
on will need to be reviewed by regulatory agencies as appropriate.
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ISPOR Poster presented at Dublin, 20-23 October, 2007.