Concern about the rising cost of clinical trials has been evident for years. In a 2009 article author Roger Collier cited figures from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development which revealed that the clinical trial costs of drug development alone had increased at least five times faster than pre-clinical costs between the 1980s and the 1990s. A follow-up 2014 report from Tufts researchers found that costs continued to soar, even while clinical approval success rates were dropping. Out-of-pocket clinical and “pre-human phase” costs represented a substantial portion of expenses.
Part of the difficulty is the amount of money that is being spent to find qualified study participants. In 2014 Eastern Research Group (ERG) conducted a research report under a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which also substantiated the findings that patient recruitment requires a substantial investment and that failure to recruit effectively can lead to delays or trial cancellation.
If these cost trends continue, there may be an increase in the reluctance of companies to even invest in research that may not be able to recruit a viable study group. This could reduce the possibility of finding new medications, treatments, or products to combat disease and improve quality of life. At its 2015 gathering, breakout groups of Partnerships in Clinical Trials members stressed the need to speed up the trial process, make it less cumbersome and reduce its costs.
What can be done to combat these increased costs while still sustaining a high level of patient recruitment and retention? Digital marketing is increasingly filling the void where traditional advertising methods have failed miserably. Inbound marketing efforts can be increased to drive targeted patients to an enrollment website instead of relying on the medical community to serve as recruiters. These targets can be identified and communicated to through a range of e-recruitment strategies.
Patients are online now more than ever searching for information about their conditions and possible treatments. Use of mobile marketing, pay-per-click and search engine optimization strategies can catch their attention at the exact moment they are most likely to take the next step in addressing their medical needs. Once they arrive at a high-impact website or landing page, they can be further educated, screened and motivated to take the desired enrollment steps. Better design of online support and communication methods during the course of the study can lead to continued participation and lowered costs as well. Social media marketing can also play a substantial role in building communities and spreading word-of-mouth awareness throughout the recruitment and retention process.
It is entirely feasible to lower lead costs for clinical trials with the digital marketing strategies available today. A MD Connect case study found that it was possible to reduce marketing costs by as much as 64%, with a cost per referral of only $99. It is no longer necessary to live with high lead costs, and eventually pass them on to medical consumers, or to give up on clinical trials altogether. A sophisticated combination of website design, e-recruitment, and intelligent lead tracking not only results in lower costs, it also leads to better outcomes. The return on investment will be substantial in dollar and time savings for the trial sponsors, and also in terms of increased availability of drugs and medical products for medical patients.