Pfizer Concludes Social Media Efforts for Trial Recruitment With Poor Results

Pfizer Concludes Social Media Efforts for Trial Recruitment With Poor Results

June 20th, 2012 // 12:06 am @

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A closely watched effort to use social media almost exclusively to recruit patients for a clinical trial has come to a disappointing end. One year after launching its so-called clinical-trial-in-a-box, Pfizer is discontinuing enrollment in the first such study that was designed to allow patients to participate from home by using computers and smartphones instead of going to a clinic or doctor’s office for medicine and check-ups.

The drugmaker hoped to create a model for saving money that would rely on personal technology to more easily recruit patients and monitor their progress. But while the gambit generated substantive traffic to the web site that offered information about the trial, the drugmaker was unable to convert that interest into significant numbers of people who were willing to participate in the study, which was testing the Detrol overactive bladder drug.

“Recruitment has been very challenging,” says Craig Lipset, who heads clinical innovation at Pfizer. “We used a lot of social media for reaching patients… Online patient communities and forums where people gather to share data and information. And there were more typical web-based advertising channels… We found some might have been incrementally better than others, but none were going to provide the true yield we wanted to see to make this project sustainable.”

The decision is not entirely surprising, given that Pfizer earlier this year acknowledged that patient recruitment was lagging for the trial, which received FDA blessing. At the time, Pfizer officials called the effort a learning experience and noted that some people remain reluctant about using social media to sign up to particpiate in trials, even though they use the Internet to gather information about needed medications and research into diseases (back story).

“I think it’s still a new way for patients to engage and there’s a healthy amount of trepidation from patients about participating,” says Lipset. “We know from data that, in terms of health information, many patients are not very aware of clinical research… And so, not having help online (from a physician, for example) for that decision-making process has been a barrier.”

For instance, he points to various studies, one of which shows 94 percent of people recognize the importance of participating in clinical research in order to assist in advancing medical science, but 75 percent of the general public state they have little to no knowledge about clinical research and the participation process. Another found that only 2 percent of the US population gets involved with trials each year. And while 44 percent of people find out about studies through the media, 14 percent gain information from their physicians (here are some survey findings).

Another issue that may have bedeviled the trial was the particular disease involved, according to Lipset. Unlike some illnesses for which medications are lacking, overactive bladder can be treated with various drugs that are readily available. This may have served as an inadvertent impediment to recruiting more women online, since they may have sought additional information, but perhaps lacked a sense of urgency to participate.

“A lot of people struggle with (overactive bladder,) but there are a number of treatment options for women to consider. So there’s a lot of information out there,” Lipset says. “In this disease area, it’s less a case of (participating in a) clinical trial or nothing… So we were able to drive a great deal of traffic to the web site, but not able to find a significant number of women with that severity and convert them” into patients.

So what next? For one thing, he says that Pfizer hopes to revive the study next year and, in the interim, “test some fixes” to its social media notions. Meanwhile, he adds that several of the ‘modules,’ or tools used to interact with patients, showed sufficient promise to start incorporating them into other trials, although these studies would largely involve more conventional efforts to woo patients.

Among the so-called modules: multi-media informed consent at drug delivery and testing; remote patient identification verfication; replacing site visits with in-home participation, and expanded use of mobile and electronic patient- reported outcomes. “These were all unique, new approaches,” Lipset says. “We know which modules seem to be working and we’ll bring them back to the portfolio to see which studies can benefit. It can give us some immediate return.

“We do plan on an updated version of this pilot for next year. We’ll do open recruitment again, but focus during the intervening time on what to do different and better in recruitment so it’s more engaging for patients online. This includes ways to engage the treating physicians,” he continues.

“…In the near term, we will not to do another wholesale soup-to-nuts efforts, but we will look to make partipiation easier and make a study more efficient and introduce these pieces… We have a couple of trials in the queue right now where multiple modules make great sense, but we’ll still due recruitment as we do it today.”


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