The costs of patient recruitment and retention are often under-recognized when budgeting for clinical trials. In an article published in International Pharmaceutical Industry in February 2013, Elio Evangelista of Cutting Edge Information stated that, “In today’s competitive pharmaceutical industry, the contest to recruit patients into clinical trials may be fiercer than the race to discover the next blockbuster.”
Factors Evangelista cited in driving up recruitment costs included additional requests for safety data, increased demand for clinical trial patients, and relatively flat growth in clinical investigators and study sites. When Cutting Edge surveyed drug manufacturers, 32% responded that patient recruitment was the largest driver of increased clinical trial costs. He concluded that the demand for clinical trial patients has actually begun to outpace the supply. This points to a further increase in recruitment costs as trial organizers compete harder for fewer viable participants.
In spite of these indicators, few companies were focusing significant time or resources on overcoming their patient recruitment challenges. Budget allocations for patient recruitment ranged from 6% to 15% of the total trial budget, with some trial sponsors even neglecting to hire anyone to manage the patient recruitment process. Evangelista then went on to discuss the secondary challenge of clinical trials - patient retention. Cutting Edge found that 64% of large pharmaceutical companies surveyed do not implement any patient retention strategies.
- Recruitment: One problem clinical trial recruiting teams face is the lack of support from marketing departments which are also tasked with promoting products and driving consumer usage. Once the marketing side fully understands the implications of these trials, however, their involvement can be captured to develop marketing strategies which identify and acquire potential participants as rigorously as they search for new customers. Cost-effective online marketing strategies such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, and social media can be brought into the fold to maintain costs while still reaching out to the appropriate target market.
- Retention: Cutting Edge’s survey also revealed that many clinical development executives believe the most effective strategy to increase retention is to make participants feel engaged with trial staff. This can be easily accomplished through digital marketing strategies. Regular e-mail contacts, social media, or a microsite dedicated to the study can provide participants with an outlet to express any concerns and find answers to their questions. Another retention strategy is establishing a participant community so patients do not feel like they are alone. This can be accomplished through newsletters, a web portal that allows patients to share their experiences, or a Facebook group that is set up for this specific purpose.
When a drug that passes its clinical trials has the potential to generate billions of dollars in revenues, clinical trial sponsors should not be so reluctant to develop strong marketing programs for patient acquisition and retention. They don’t have to spend more money or compete harder to find and retain trial participants, but they do have to implement a strategic marketing plan.