January 18th, 2017

New Tufts Research Explores Barriers to Clinical Trial Recruitment Success


Dwindling physician referrals for clinical trials is just one small piece of a much larger issue. 

According to a recently released Tufts CSDD survey of 2,000 nurses and physicians, an overwhelming majority (70% and 90%, respectively) consider themselves “somewhat” or “very” comfortable discussing clinical trials with their patients – however, less than 0.2% of these medical professionals actively refer their patients to clinical trials.

Study coordinator Ken Getz attributed this discrepancy to two primary factors: physicians’ lack of familiarity with trial referrals, and inadequate access to key trial information. The study discloses that “nearly 30% of physicians and 45% of nurses reported never receiving initial or follow-up contact from investigative site staff following a referral, and a higher percentage reported never receiving their patients’ clinical trial results.”

The Big Picture

Unfortunately, the issues identified by the study represent only a small sliver of a much larger problem: clinical trial efficiency is declining at an alarming rate.

Back in 1975, sponsors spent the equivalent of $100 million on R&D to secure FDA approval for a new drug. By 1987, the cost had risen to $300 million, and by 2005, to $1.5 billion. Between 1997 and 2011, the typical cost of securing approval (based on the average spend of 12 leading pharmaceutical companies on 139 drugs developed during that period) was $5.8 billion per drug.

So what’s really going on here? Approximately 29% of a clinical trial’s costs can be attributed to the enrollment process. About 90% of U.S. trials fail to hit recruitment targets on time, and 27% of investigator sites are unable to enroll a single qualified patient. In fact, clinical trial recruitment and retention issues can end up costing up to $37,000 per day. What’s clear is that inefficient patient recruitment practices have been a major factor in skyrocketing R&D costs, which in turn have diminished profit margins for Pharma companies and increased the overall cost of care for patients.

It’s Time To Take Action

As Getz points out, the takeaway from this study isn’t that physicians and nurses represent a barrier to recruitment; quite the opposite, in fact. Sponsors and trial sites simply aren’t providing the level of communication and outreach necessary to leverage healthcare providers as “facilitators and critical partners in engaging patients before and during clinical trial participation.”

But clinical trial enrollment success demands a holistic and proactive approach. While traditional recruitment measures, such as physician referrals and database recruitment, certainly have their place in any comprehensive strategy, other emerging opportunities to increase efficiency continue to go overlooked.

Investing in digital advertising, social media, and content marketing isn’t just a more targeted and efficient way to cast a wider net; it aligns with prevailing consumer trends and preferences, which in turn makes it incredibly impactful. It’s not a coincidence that 98% of marketers across all industries are incorporating digital strategies alongside traditional offline channels and referral systems.

The only way to put an end to these snowballing costs is by embracing new technologies and best practices that both cater to shifting consumer preferences and enhance traditional recruitment tactics. That means ensuring that everyone – physicians and patients – have access to the information they need to make an informed decision.