Pharma companies test new ways to attract patients to clinical trials

Clinical trials are critical to the introduction of new drugs, but their success depends on the companies' ability to get enough patients to volunteer. Recently, drug companies have engaged in innovative techniques to recruit patients to participate, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Some use information from laboratory test records to identify people with certain diseases who might qualify for a clinical trial. Other firms have taken to monitoring how patients discuss their diseases in online discussion forums to target potential recruits. Axovant Sciences, which develops dementia drugs, has partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft to transport patients to and from clinics, according to the report.

Roughly 1.7 million patients participate in 80,000 pharmaceutical company sponsored trials worldwide each year. However, researchers are finding it more difficult "to attract and retain the requested number of patients in order to complete our studies on time and within budget," Ken Getz, founder of the Boston-based Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation, told The Wall Street Journal.

According to Mr. Getz, some prospective study participants decide not to volunteer because it's possible they won't receive the study drug at all, only a placebo or a different drug currently in use. Others don't want to pick up the additional responsibilities imposed by a clinical trial, such as keeping a diary and getting regular medical tests. Burdensome legal paperwork deters many other potential volunteers.

Anne White, who is the head of Eli Lilly & Co.'s efforts to shorten drug development times, says recruiting volunteers for drug trials is "one of the biggest challenges in clinical research today," according to the report.

It's also expensive. The Wall Street Journal cites a study published in the journal Clinical Trials earlier this year that found drug companies spend more than $300,000 on average to recruit each participant in a three-phase clinical trial, which adds up to nearly 3 percent of a trial's total cost.

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