July 17, 2014

Patient recruitment is one of the biggest challenges facing companies involved inoncology clinical development.

For example, a recent study by Cutting Edge Information finds that only 43% of surveyed companies achieved planned Phase 2 oncology enrollment. Recruitment problems can greatly delay clinical trials – sometimes by as long as 20 months – and these delays cost the company and deny oncology patients much-needed treatments. If only there were some avenue through which companies could reach large communities of patients just perfect for their trials.But wait – there is! It’s called social media, and – for pharma – it’s no longer a mystery, and it’s no longer off-limits. Every day patients congregate on Facebook, Twitter and other social media communities for education and support. Pharma can join hands with patients via these online groups and communicate with them about clinical trials.Through this engagement, patients learn about clinical trials around them and build relationships with companies that last beyond the trial duration. Though these methods are still new to pharma, a few studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that social media is more effective than traditional means of clinical trial patient recruitment – and it’s cheaper and faster (see here and here for examples).

For companies using social media, a Clinipace survey found that 54% of respondents believe online communities and advocacy groups are their most valuable channels for enrolling patients in oncology clinical trials. One such community is PatientsLikeMe – a social media site where patients meet to share stories, learn about treatment options and even input their own real world data (RWD).

Companies such as Sanofi and Genentech have partnered with PatientsLikeMe to gain access to a wide range of oncology patients (among other therapeutic areas). This set-up is a win-win for all parties: patients learn about relevant clinical trials, and companies can get the patient enrollment they need. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Well, as with everything in pharma, there are always precautions. Social media may put patient privacy — and trial integrity — at risk if companies and patients are not careful. Ken Getz, who led a Tufts study on social media and clinical trials, suggests that informed consent could encourage patients to be mindful of what they disclose online during clinical trials.

For those pharma organizations that are still hesitant to enter the social media landscape, the American Society of Clinical Oncology posted a Practical Guidance on using social media for various oncology practices – including clinical trials. With these guidelines in mind, pharma can jump into social media and reach out to oncology patients looking for clinical trials.



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