Shire, Mediciglobal hear big bang of social media in e-recruitment

CHICAGO -- As the FDA wrestles with guidelines for the use of social media in drug marketing, drug developers are tapping both the media and the marketing to bolster trial recruitment. In a presentation at this week's 47th annual DIA show, panelists from both drug sponsors and clinics described the challenges and advantages of e-recruitment.

"A lot of this is just marketing 101," said Joseph Kim of Shire's clinical trial optimization group. "We need to get the fundamentals right first," of using YouTube, for example, as a recruitment platform. "YouTube is the number two search engine in the world. We just need to be more savvy about using it."

As in marketing, you must first understand the customer (or in this case, the prospective subject) and then let subject insights drive your e-recruitment strategy. "In the end it's about being patient-centric," says Kim. Establish quantitative goals, he advises; set expectations.

Sponsor consultant Joe Simon notes that use of social media gives sponsors more control over the recruitment message. "You get instant feedback on what's working and what isn't. It becomes an iterative process, allowing you to make adjustments."

Both sponsors and sites have obstacles to overcome in using social media for subject recruitment, Simon says. Education and overcoming loyalty to traditional methods take time, as do legal and regulatory compliance reviews.

Liz Moench of Medici Global conducted her own investigation into what sites doing with social media, an attempt to understand their shift to e-recruitment. She found that 49 percent of the investigator sites studied used traditional forms of recruitment, despite sinking return on their investment. Eighty percent of site respondents are unfamiliar with social media, even as early adopters are using it as an effective recruitment tool. Another of her findings: "Some confuse e-marketing and social media."

Adam Larabee, of Rochester Clinical Research, said that text messaging campaigns, Facebook, Craigslist,, banner ads, keywords and clinical trial listing services, are available digital recruitment tools, while others are always emerging. All studies should be listed on Centerwatch, he says. And in a showdown of banner ads in print versus Facebook, the cost per enrolled subject came in at $1207 and $403 (for two separate newspapers) versus $294 for Facebook.

Early adopter Alex Harris from the Houston Sleep Center, an early adopter of social media e-recruitment, described a national clinical trial that studied ADHD subjects having difficulty sleeping. An established site's database proved insufficient for the protocol. So investigators began a campaign using traditional initiatives, including dear doctor letters, community outreach, and targeted media print ads. Two months later they went digital, basing 85% of the campaign on Craigslist, Facebook and other social media outlets. The result: 85 percent of subjects came to the trial via digital media outreach, whereas 15 percent came from traditional sources. Facebook alone generated 68 percent of the subjects.