March 10th, 2016

Are You Keeping Your Clinical Trial Candidates in the Dark?


Clinical trials are still struggling to recruit and retain participants, which results not only in staggering costs for trial sponsors, but also prevents patients from gaining access to new treatments and medications – and the solution could be as simple as candidate education.

An astounding number of child cancer patients actively seek out clinical trials; about 80-90%, according to oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, speaking with the New York Times. The Times notes that in these trials, literal miracles are occurring on a regular basis – in other words, treatments are transforming from abstract calculations on a chalkboard and test tube experiments into a source of comfort and hope for those suffering from serious illnesses.

Somewhat surprisingly, adult cancer patients are at the polar opposite of the spectrum – just 3% participate in clinical trials, reports NCBI. While these stats are cancer-specific, the general disparity couldn’t be more clear: pediatric patients are seeking innovative treatment while other patients, overwhelmingly, are not.

For CROs, trial coordinators, and trial sponsors, these are frustrating numbers. But what’s more frustrating is the underlying cause: many, if not most trial candidates are all too often left in the dark, unaware, or misinformed about their options. Simply put, it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect more participants to sign up for experimental treatments they know little to nothing about.

What Don’t Candidates Know About?

According to NCBI research (also concerning cancer), patients’ most common barrier to pursuing trial treatment is fear – in particular, the fear of a reduced quality of life. As OncLive observes, many candidates are afraid that they’ll be used as some sort of “guinea pig,” that they’ll receive a placebo instead of treatment, or that experimental treatment will be inferior to FDA-approved standard fare.

As MedCityNews notes, much patient hesitation also stems from concerns that insurance won’t cover the trial, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act includes specific protections for such cases.

While those fears are largely unfounded, clinical research is undeniably complex, and it should come as no surprise that many candidates get the wrong idea. In fact, a majority of patients don’t have any idea at all; according to NIH, as many as 85% of cancer patients remain unaware that clinical trials are even an option. What’s more, 75% would be willing to enroll if they knew that they existed.

How can trial coordinators and CROs remove the shroud around trial recruitment and bring their candidates into the light?

Education Is at the Heart of (Trial) Knowledge

Education and outreach are the only effective ways to provide patients with the accurate and up-to-date information they need to not only be aware of their various options, but to also feel confident enough to make a decision and commit to a trial. And as it turns out, digital channels are vital for disseminating important trial information; recent research from Zogby, which can be found on ResearchAmerica, indicates that the vast majority of adults who have heard about clinical trials cite the internet as their primary source for information (compared to the 29% who cited traditional media sources).

Engaging with candidates over social media, crafting simple and informative trial websites or microsites, and blogging about trial information and related topics are all powerful ways to not just reach your audience, but to fill them in on the finer points of trial participation. The primary advantages of digital marketing for clinical trials is the overall responsiveness and agility of the medium, and the ability to seek out candidates with unique qualifications through highly targeted, proactive messaging.

And it’s not a hard message to sell; NCBI reports that 75% of children newly-diagnosed with cancer are expected to be long-term survivors because of their heavy involvement with clinical trials. At the end of the day, the more effectively we can recruit for clinical trials, the more effectively we’ll be able to treat serious diseases and rare conditions.

If trial sponsors can demonstrate that clinical trial research is indeed at the very heart of medical innovation, we’ll likely see a snowball effect in trial participation in the coming years – after all, people tend to trust in what they see others already doing. We just need to make sure we’re using the most effective tools possible in order to educate and comfort, helping the afflicted come into the light so they can access the treatments and medications they so desperately need.

(Main image credit: Diz Play/Unsplash)