Clinical trials in severe falciparum malaria require a large sample size to detect clinically meaningful differences in mortality. This means few interventions can be evaluated at any time. Using a validated surrogate endpoint for mortality would provide a useful alternative allowing a smaller sample size. Here we evaluate changes in coma score and plasma lactate as surrogate endpoints for mortality in severe falciparum malaria.
Three datasets of clinical studies in severe malaria were re-evaluated: studies from Chittagong, Bangladesh (adults), the African AQUAMAT trial comparing artesunate and quinine (children), and the Vietnamese AQ study (adults) comparing artemether with quinine. The absolute change, relative change, slope of the normalization over time, and time to normalization were derived from sequential measurements of plasma lactate and coma score, and validated for their use as surrogate endpoint, including the proportion of treatment effect on mortality explained (PTE) by these surrogate measures.
Improvements in lactate concentration or coma scores over the first 24 hours of admission, were strongly prognostic for survival in all datasets. In hyperlactataemic patients in the AQ study (n = 173), lower mortality with artemether compared to quinine closely correlated with faster reduction in plasma lactate concentration, with a high PTE of the relative change in plasma lactate at 8 and 12 hours of 0.81 and 0.75, respectively. In paediatric patients enrolled in the AQUAMAT study with cerebral malaria (n = 785), mortality was lower with artesunate compared to quinine, but this was not associated with faster coma recovery.
The relative changes in plasma lactate concentration assessed at 8 or 12 hours after admission are valid surrogate endpoints for severe malaria studies on antimalarial drugs or adjuvant treatments aiming at improving the microcirculation. Measures of coma recovery are not valid surrogate endpoints for mortality.