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Industry Standard

Drug industry takes patient trials online

July 15, 1999
Web posted at: 1:41 p.m. EDT (1741 GMT)

by Todd Woody health graphic

(IDG) -- The pharmaceutical industry is going online to recruit patients for clinical drug trials.

Visitors to, former surgeon general C. Everett Koop's health-care Web site, can now apply to participate in drug trials managed by Quintiles Transnational (QTRN) , a Durham, N.C., company that runs thousands of clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry. Announced late last month, the agreement between Austin, Texas-based and Quintiles was quickly followed by a similar deal between Americas and CenterWatch, a clinical-trials information clearinghouse.

The federal government requires extensive testing of new drugs before allowing them to be sold. That process typically lasts years and increasingly requires larger groups of patients for clinical trials as drugs get closer to obtaining clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. The quicker a company can bring a product to market, the lower its cost of developing drugs.
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The industry's foray into online recruitment comes as a record number of drugs in development has spurred demand for volunteer patients. The move also follows recent news reports about drug companies' payment of large finders' fees to doctors to recruit volunteers for drug trials. An investigation by the New York Times found that some doctors abused the trust of their patients by encouraging them to participate in clinical trials for which they were not suited.

The Internet could help avoid that pitfall by putting the initiative to join a clinical trial in the hands of patients rather than physicians. Patients, however, will still need to rely on doctors to properly evaluate their fitness for a drug trial. will receive a referral fee for each person who applies for a trial. The company will be paid an additional fee if the applicant is accepted into a trial. A Quintiles spokeswoman declined to disclose the amount of the fees.

Net health-care executives and their partners at the drug-testing companies portrayed online clinical-trial enrollment as empowering consumers to take charge of their medical care.

"Through clinical trials, patients are put in touch with a very high level of medical care," Koop said at a press conference announcing the new service.

It's also true that people suffering from rare or untreatable diseases have had few ways to find out about drug trials that might help alleviate their condition. Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally relied on individual doctors and advertising to recruit patients. The Internet, of course, can disseminate information about drug trials to a worldwide audience.

The drug industry also stands to benefit if online enrollment speeds the completion of clinical trials.

"The No. 1 reason for delay in the clinical-trial process is the difficulty in enlisting qualified patients, which can take months or even years," Quintiles CEO Dennis Gillings said at the press conference.

By turning to, Quintiles gains access to 1.5 million registered users, many of whom visit the site for information about chronic diseases that are often the subject of drug trials. Perhaps just as importantly, Quintiles' drug-company clients can associate themselves with the trusted Koop.

Boston-based CenterWatch, which publishes information on clinical trials, maintains extensive listings of drug trials on its Web site. CenterWatch CEO Ken Getz says the desire to associate his company with an online consumer brand prompted him to cut the deal with The Owings Mills, Md.-based Web site offers real-time chat with physicians.

AmericasDoctor rolls out its clinical-trials feature sometime later this month. Unlike with's service, potential patients must contact pharmaceutical-company researchers directly if they want to apply for a drug trial. But AmericasDoctor has agreements with pharmaceutical companies that will allow the site to notify individuals when a trial that fits their profile is scheduled. AmericasDoctor will receive a referral fee for patients who enroll.

Online recruiting for drug trials will further bind health-care sites to the pharmaceutical industry, which already provides the bulk of advertising revenues for many medical sites. Persuading people to enroll in drug trials over the Internet may depend on whether prospective patients perceive sites like as neutral brokers or as agents of the drug industry.

Says AmericasDoctor spokesman Michael Cryor: "In order for our site to make it, we have to maintain credibility in everything we do."

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