September 21st, 2017

How Digital Marketing Lowers Clinical Trial Recruitment Costs


Clinical trial costs are skyrocketing with no end in sight – is digital marketing the solution?

For years, the clinical trial community has been fighting a losing battle against skyrocketing R&D costs. Today, only 32% of drugs actually make it to Phase III clinical trials, and a mere 10% go to market. When clinical trials fail – that is, most of the time – drug companies lose between $800 million to $1.4 billion. As a result, stock prices often plummet, forcing some companies to lay off employees, terminate active studies, and even sell off portions of their business in order to remain afloat. Shareholders suffer major losses, but even more importantly, patients lose out on potentially life-saving treatments.

The need for cost reduction is urgent, and trial sponsors and CROs must take a hard look at what they could be doing differently to increase the likelihood of approval. An immediate area for improvement is patient recruitment, where even short delays can end up costing millions of dollars. Importantly, by incorporating digital marketing into your patient recruitment strategy, you can decrease the cost per patient referral by as much as 64%.

Astronomical Costs

Patient recruitment represents a substantial percentage of Phase III clinical trial’s overall costs, and is arguably the most common cause of failure. Up to 50% of clinical trials are delayed due to recruitment issues. Approximately 30% of enrolled patients will drop out over the course of a clinical study, and for many trials, recruiting enough new participants to continue is a serious challenge. Overall, around 46% of clinical trials fail due to poor recruitment, and delays can result in financial losses of up to $8 million per day.

Though the need for better recruitment strategies is clear, many sponsors and CROs seem reluctant to embrace more modern methods. Only 37% of recruiters use mobile health, or mHealth, strategies to help bolster patient enrollment and retention, and just 14% of the nearly $11 billion spent on healthcare advertising was allocated to digital media in 2015.

Digital Marketing Fills the Void

To combat these costs, sponsors and CROs need to take a smarter approach to patient recruitment. Digital marketing programs are already filling the gaps that traditional advertising methods cannot – by reaching out to to patients directly, sponsors can decrease their dependency on recruiting via referrals and databases, enrolling participants who might not have otherwise known about the study. Google and Facebook advertising are the most popular platforms, but recruiters should carefully evaluate their options to determine the media mix for them.

Patients are increasingly taking charge of their own health and using search engines to learn more about their conditions and the various options for treatment. In fact, Google processed more than 28 billion searches for healthcare-related topics last year. Google AdWords enables sponsors and CROs to target patients or caregivers who are actively researching treatment options for specific conditions.

With 1.92 billion users, Facebook is one of the largest “patient databases” on earth (second only to Google). The vast majority of patients and their caregivers – of any age, gender, or ethnicity – use the platform, making it an ideal platform for patient recruitment. Facebook offers advertisers a multitude of targeting options, including location, age, sex, demonstrated ethnicity, and the pages and groups a user engages with. With the proper approach, sponsors can reach a wider range of highly qualified prospective participants, thereby generating better leads for investigator sites at lower cost.

As clinical R&D costs continue to spiral out of control, we need to shed our business-as-usual mindset and embrace a smarter, more innovative approach. The right digital marketing program can decrease the likelihood of trial failure, save the industry billions, and help ensure patients have access to the live-saving new treatments they need.