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Regulatory agencies worldwide have adopted programs to facilitate drug development for diseases where the traditional approach of a randomized trial with a clinical endpoint is expected to be prohibitively lengthy or difficult. Here we provide quantitative evidence that this criterion is met for the prevention of genetic prion disease. We assemble age of onset or death data from N=1,094 individuals with high penetrance mutations in the prion protein gene (PRNP), generate survival and hazard curves, and estimate statistical power for clinical trials. We show that, due to dramatic and unexplained variability in age of onset, randomized preventive trials would require hundreds or thousands of at-risk individuals in order to be statistically powered for an endpoint of clinical onset, posing prohibitive cost and delay and likely exceeding the number of individuals available for such trials. Instead, the characterization of biomarkers suitable to serve as surrogate endpoints will be essential for the prevention of genetic prion disease. Biomarker-based trials may require post-marketing studies to confirm clinical benefit. Parameters such as longer trial duration, increased enrollment, and the use of historical controls in a post-marketing study could provide opportunities for subsequent determination of clinical benefit.

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