Clinical trials have been around for years. They’re often a way of testing new treatments on people who are already requiring treatment for something. For those with terminal diagnoses, they may prolong life or improve the quality of their remaining time. Chronic conditions may be alleviated, and treatment once considered experimental and new may become mainstream after a successful clinical trial. They might allow the development of new drugs or instead, look at prevention or better diagnosis of disease. Clinical trials can help establish whether screening, imaging, or testing can assist early diagnosis or investigate how best to support those people diagnosed with a particular disease. However, all of these can be damaged by the challenges of clinical trials, and one of the overlooked ones is professional study subjects – let’s see how.
Clinical trials attract different types of individuals
For some, a clinical trial can simply be a way of getting a free treatment or being paid for the time the trial takes. Some patients will use any underhand means at their disposal to ensure their place on these trials, as for them, they are lucrative little earners. So many people are living with multiple illnesses that simply paying for all the medications can get expensive. Any chance that they find to try something for free is a lucky break for their finances. Then, many individuals are more altruistic. They simply want the chance to take part in something which might potentially change the course of treatment for other patients, some of whom may be their loved ones.
So, it was with the trials of the COVID-19 vaccines. The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel; a chance to gain a measure of protection against this virulent disease. Some people, however, were purely in the trials for their own ends. They wanted the vaccine first, both doses, and they would stop at nothing to get it – the majority of the trials face these types of individuals.
So how could these professional study subjects play the system like this and become one of the overlooked challenges of clinical trials? Lax patient identification is not the only answer, it’s far more complicated than that.
- One way these professional study subjects game the system is to ignore the terms and conditions of the trial. They maintain they meet the criteria, when in fact they have an underlying condition that would automatically exclude them from taking part. Or they choose not to disclose that they are already participating in another trial when the rules of the second trial they are applying for clearly state that it must be the only trial they are enrolled in at any time.
- Earning money may not be the sole motivator for everyone. Some people like to take advantage of freebies to save money on their medical bills. Others could have more nefarious reasons, like acquiring the drugs for recreational purposes. There is also a group of professional patients who hope the medicine or treatment being trialed will stop or slow down their disease, even if that’s not the prime reason for the trial. These patients are more likely to travel long distances to ensure they are in the group testing the new treatment, rather than receiving a placebo. They may also enroll in multiple sites under different identities. This has the potential to skew the results of the trial, which could affect the chances of a treatment being brought to the market.
- Assuming a false identity is the way many of these professional patients get around the rules on participating in clinical trials. If they look alike, they could masquerade as their sibling, or simply purchase a forged identity online for a fraction of the money they stand to earn from the trial. For those who know where to look, fake documents are available for $50 to $100, and the earnings from a trial could run into thousands of dollars for each participant.
- These professional patients are willing to game the system in any way possible. Even falsifying participation is not unknown – saying they took the drugs when they haven’t. That means they won’t show any effects, although they will still be treated as a trial member. If enough people on one trial game the system in various ways, the results could be irretrievably altered, and the rollout could be delayed or halted, no matter how promising the previous work had looked.
Read the full article along with the sources at How Professional Patients are One of the Crucial Challenges of Clinical Trials
Published by Salman Rashid