PatientsLikeMe enhances recruitment for clinical trials via social network

Recruiting patients for clinical trials is notoriously cumbersome and expensive using standard methods. Yet PatientsLikeMe might be able to ease this burden, using its social network of more than 100,000 patients and a well-known government database of trials.

The Cambridge, MA-based firm says today that it is tapping and updating its social network daily with data on trials from the database, automatically connecting patients on its website with information on studies that might be appropriate for them. Drug developers can also pay the firm to do online recruitment of patients for trials, with the ability to send messages to patients without revealing the identities of the patients, according to PatientsLikeMe.

The company's efforts come as drug companies are searching for ways to make the long and costly process of enrolling patients in trials more efficient. For example, last month a partnership of drug companies, academics and IT firms called PACeR revealed plans to create a pilot clinical research network in New York State that would tap electronic health records to streamline patient recruitment in trials, among other goals. And Pfizer made headlines this week for an all-electronic clinical trial that will use online advertising to draw in patients.

"This opens up access for companies to target their outreach to the right patients," Jamie Heywood, co-founder and chairman of PatientsLikeMe, said in a statement. "Together, we can make trial enrollment faster, more efficient and more accessible to the people that need them--patients."

For PatientsLikeMe, this new feature for its website could boost its existing service of helping investigators tap its social network for trials recruitment, a line of business that has thus far been a relatively small piece of the closely held firm's revenue pie, company President Ben Heywood told FierceBiotech IT in an interview in April. The company also is appears to be making wise use of a widely available online database,, much in the tradition of how and other sites use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) weather database for their products.

- here's the PatientsLikeMe release