Pfizer to pay big bucks for scouring databases for trials subjects

Thirteen hospitals in New York could see major investments in electronic patient records pay off in spades. Pfizer ($PFE) and four other large drug companies aim to pay the hospitals $50,000 to $200,000 every time the hospitals mine their databases and come back with a list of qualified patients for the drugmakers' clinical trials, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.

As pharma groups search for ways to make trials recruitment more efficient, the Partnership to Advance Electronic Patient Research (PACeR) has a pilot project in New York to improve the usability of electronic patient data for clinical researchers. Oracle ($ORCL) and Quintiles Transnational ($QTRN) are two firms helping to build the system required for the project, and large drug companies such as Pfizer, Roche, Merck ($MRK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Bayer are backing the endeavor. The patient-recruitment effort, which could generate $75 million per year, gets started this month, according to the Bloomberg article.

While $200,000 might sound like a lot of dough for this type of service, consider that drugmakers stand to get hit with even higher expenses for study delays because of holdups in getting enough patients in clinical trials. Drug developers are already paying hefty sums to fund campaigns that use advertising and various forms of outreach to recruit patients. And trial recruitment falls onto a long list of logistical issues that developers face when trying to get a trial up and running in the U.S. and Canada, where clinical researchers have bemoaned the loss of revenue-generating trials to overseas sites such as India and Eastern Europe. This has created growing market for software firms and groups such as PACeR.

"This is going to be a game changer, making medicine more of a science and less of an art," John Murphy, senior director of clinical analytics for Quintiles, told Bloomberg.

The article points out that all kinds of ethical and privacy issues come into play when querying patient records for drug companies. For starters, the drugmakers aren't doing the actual queries, the hospitals are, and all the data that developers are given are stripped clean information that reveals the identity of the patient. Yet there's still plenty of fodder here--big drug companies paying hospitals for patient data, for one--to rile privacy advocates.

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