Background Biomarkers have many distinct purposes, and depending on their intended use, the validation process varies substantially. Purpose The goal of this article is to provide an introduction to the topic of biomarkers, and then to discuss three specific types of biomarkers, namely, prognostic, predictive, and surrogate. Results A principle challenge for biomarker validation from a statistical perspective is the issue of multiplicity. In general, the solution to this multiplicity challenge is well known to statisticians: pre-specification and replication. Critical requirements for prognostic marker validation include uniform treatment, complete follow-up, unbiased case selection, and complete ascertainment of the many possible confounders that exist in the context of an observational sample. In the case of predictive biomarker validation, observational data are clearly inadequate and randomized controlled trials are mandatory. Within the context of randomization, strategies for predictive marker validation can be grouped into two categories: retrospective versus prospective validation. The critical validation criteria for a surrogate endpoint is to ensure that if a trial uses a surrogate endpoint, the trial will result in the same inferences as if the trial had observed the true endpoint. The field of surrogate endpoint validation has now moved to the multi-trial or meta-analytic setting as the preferred method. Conclusions Biomarkers are a highly active research area. For all biomarker developmental and validation studies, the importance of fundamental statistical concepts remains the following: pre-specification of hypotheses, randomization, and replication. Further statistical methodology research in this area is clearly needed as we move forward. Clinical Trials 2013; 10: 647-652. http://ctj.sagepub.com.
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