PharmExec Blog

Pfizer to Launch Clinical Trial Network

Pfizer, Inc.
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Pfizer announced, last week, that it was partnering with technology firm Private Access to launch an online social network to help patients find clinical trials more easily.

According to Pfizer, a top complaint from physicians is difficulty in matching patients with trials. “Finding volunteers has been a big issue for anyone conducting a clinical trial. Not just pharma companies, but any researcher conducting a trial,” said Kristen E. Neese, director, worldwide communications, Pfizer.

The problem is twofold. One the one hand, patients are concerned about sharing their personal health information; on the other hand, there hasn’t been a central location for patients to look for clinical trials and have their information matched with the most appropriate trial for them.

Pfizer Senior Strategy Director Usama Malik told Pharm Exec on Wednesday that the difficulty finding patients is causing drugs to take longer to get to trials, and in turn, raising costs.

“The clinical trials industry is highly fragmented,” Malik said. “Pharma companies, traditionally, haven’t worked in unison to increase value. They don’t speak to each other about the holistic opportunity for patients, providers, and pharma [to work together].

The new site will offer best-of-kind services including:
• Education and awareness for specific conditions and clinical trials
• Trial recruitment via patient posts and traditional research requests
• Some form of social community

Since 2002, Pfizer has posted every clinical trial its been involved with on NIH’s trial bulleting, but the drug giant wanted to establish a network that offers a more personal experience for the user. “This builds on that by creating more of a social networking site where patients can share their information and find trials that meet their specific needs,” said Neese.

For example, a diabetes sufferer can go to, type “diabetes,” and get thousands of protocol listings. Sorting through the different criteria is daunting, said Neese. The new site will allow patients to determine if they want to share their private information with researchers who are looking for patients that meet their specific criteria.

Much as a person would be asked to befriend someone on Facebook, a patient could be alerted that a researcher is looking for patients with diabetes; the patient will then be asked if they would like to share their information with this researcher.

“We have a long term vision for this site that includes not only Pfizer clinical trials, but all clinical trials,” Neese says. “We want this to be a tool that is going to be useful to patients. For it to work, it has to include more than just Pfizer.”

The site is scheduled to launch within the next year.

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  1. Posted August 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Pfizer must be applauded for its efforts to further raise public awareness for clinical trials through an internet application.

    Over the past 20 years, many web-based patient recruitment projects and programs for clinical trials have come and gone. It would be nice to see this one actually succeed and change the course of history.

    Patient recruitment initiatives of past have had a bumpy ride. In each case, the venture was company-driven rather than Sponsor-led. So this latest patient recruitment initiative by may result in a different outcome.

    Consider that over a decade ago, the Harris Poll was a pioneer in this field; the company matched patients to clinical trials from their database, generated through a search engine called “excite”. While over 4 million patients spanning 47 therapeutic categories opted in through Harris Poll’s daily polling question, the initiative did not succeed. There were many reasons including the fact that the specificity of a clinical trial’s inclusion-exclusion criteria weeds out many patients. Additionally, more patients were excluded because they were not located near a study site. The model did not warrant long term success.

    Another company, Veritas Medicine an internet-based patient recruitment firm also entered the online patient recruitment space. Like Harris Poll, it based its business model on building online databases of patients, and matching them to clinical trials. In 2007 however, this company-driven database closed it doors.

    Companies driving online initiatives that involve building patient databases for clinical trials have so far shown limited success. A more recent initiative came earlier this year, when in January 2009, Acurian Inc. announced, the release of an internet application aimed at Facebook and MySpace. The company wanted to generate “clinical trial awareness and patient recruitment.” It projected that with Facebook and MySpace having nearly 200 million registered users; it could tap into these online audiences and have them sign up for access to clinical trials. The company even sought to entice people with earning points that would correspond with a donation to one of twenty medical causes. On August 12, 2009, just 8 months after launch, Facebook lists 34 fans, and 97 active users.

    With a lack luster history of companies driving patients into databases online, could it be that patients are generally mistrustful when a company is involved? Are patients reticent to leave contact or personal information in the hands of businesses? Do online databases have more success when they are backed by patient groups and disease associations? Just some of the many questions we ask ourselves as patient recruitment specialists, always seeking to harness the power of the web.

    Finally, in the examples described above, it is again important to emphasize that each initiative was company-driven not sponsor-led. A major pharmaceutical company stepping into the fray is a new approach. It makes us hopeful that this will yield a more positive outcome.

    Yes patient recruitment is challenging. But it is the patient centric approach that requires high touch and well thought out strategies. In 20 years of our specialization in this field, we continue to work through the challenge of successfully finding patients using multiple channels. The Internet is just one of them.

  2. Posted September 8, 2009 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Pfizer has taken the lead in the Global Pharma in “educating” / creating an awareness in the masses who are suffering from the known and the unknown disease prevalence.

    By doing so, Pfizer “may” face competition as this is an activity related to the long term growth of clinical development

  3. Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    This is such an innovative initiative. This will bring transparency to the system as well as lead to clinical trials of the right kind reaching the right patient. I hope that besides a social networking platform, the system will have other tools for patients to figure out what trials they match for. For example a symptoms plus medical history tool will filter out trials for the patients. Let’s wait and watch the final product which I believe will be quite fruitful to all.

  4. Posted February 16, 2010 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    I am actually patiently waiting for the site to go live. Who knows how long that would take. We all know how slow some corporate giants actually execute an idea to a reality. Much applause to Pfizer however!

  5. Posted February 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for you posting.
    Yes, one of the main concerns with any clinical research study is to find qualified candidates.
    We at Avail are looking forward to getting the name of this site and working in conjunction, if possible.

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