An objective in randomized clinical trials is the evaluation of “principal surrogates,” which consists of analyzing how the treatment effect on a clinical endpoint varies over principal strata subgroups defined by an intermediate response outcome under both or one of the treatment assignments. The latter effect modification estimand has been termed the marginal causal effect predictiveness (mCEP) curve. This objective was addressed in two randomized placebo-controlled Phase 3 dengue vaccine trials for an antibody response biomarker whose sampling design rendered previously developed inferential methods highly inefficient due to a three-phase sampling design. In this design, the biomarker was measured in a case-cohort sample and a key baseline auxiliary strongly associated with the biomarker (the “baseline surrogate measure”) was only measured in a further sub-sample. We propose a novel approach to estimation of the mCEP curve in such three-phase sampling designs that avoids the restrictive “placebo structural risk” modeling assumption common to past methods and that further improves robustness by the use of non-parametric kernel smoothing for biomarker density estimation. Additionally, we develop bootstrap-based procedures for pointwise and simultaneous confidence intervals and testing of four relevant hypotheses about the mCEP curve. We investigate the finite-sample properties of the proposed methods and compare them to those of an alternative method making the placebo structural risk assumption. Finally, we apply the novel and alternative procedures to the two dengue vaccine trial data sets.

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