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The Father of Trial Randomization Dies

Statistician Paul Meier, who championed the random assignment of patients to treatment groups in clinical trials, changed the way the researchers test experimental drugs.

By | August 15, 2011

IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SEATTLE MUNICIPAL ARCHIVES

Paul Meier, the statistician who revolutionized clinical trials in the United States, died last Sunday (August 7) from complications following a stroke, according to the New York Times. He was 87-years-old.

In the mid-1950s, Meier championed randomization in clinical trials, arguing that the way in which researchers assigned treatments to whichever participants they thought would benefit most was likely skewing results. Sir Richard Peto, an Oxford University epidemiologist and contemporary of Meier's, told the Times that, more than any other US statistician, Meier was "the one who influenced US drug regulatory agencies, and hence clinical researchers throughout the US and other countries, to insist on the central importance of randomized evidence."

In 1958, Meier and collaborator Edward Kaplan, a researcher at the University of California Radiation Laboratory, published a paper describing a new, more efficient method for estimating survival rates for patients participating in clinical trials. The so-called Kaplan-Meier estimator used the ratio of trial participants that die during clinical studies to those that survive to estimate the proportion of patients alive at any point during the trial. Generating Kaplan-Meier curves is standard practice for virtually every medical study conducted today.

Meier is survived by his wife Louise, three daughters, and five grandchildren.

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