Pfizer’s social media clinical trial recruitment pilot marked important first step

Despite Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) decision to end its pilot social media recruitment initiative for a 10-state clinical trial for overactive bladder drug Detrol, the effort marks an important first step to reduce the costs of drug development.

In an interview with Pharmalot, Pfizer’s head of clinical innovation, Craig Lipset, said recruitment had been “very challenging,” but added that the company will assess the pilot and carry out an updated version of it next year.

“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.”


Like most new efforts, the first move is likely to reveal more about what not to do. The choice of drug was probably a poor one considering the availability of overactive bladder treatments. For example, why not a drug for an unmet need that are likely to have more social media-savvier online communities?

The interesting thing is that the Big Pharma drugmaker is also looking to add some interactive components from this pilot to other clinical trials, according to the article, including multimedia informed consent, remote patient-identification verification, in-home participation, and increased use of mobile and electronic patient-reported outcomes.

There are several companies who already use or are beginning to tap social media as part of clinical trials. Transparency Life Sciences and, more recently, Genomera are using crowdsourcing to design clinical trials.

“Anyone who has a stake in making these techniques applicable to clinical trials owes Pfizer a debt,” said Marc Foster of Transparency Life Sciences. “It’s so apparent that there need to be better ways to plan and execute trials. We all need to be working together toward that goal.”

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