UPDATED: Pfizer's online trial recruitment gambit flops

Social media has already proven to be a useful tool to get out the word to potential participants about new clinical trials, but a soup-to-nuts approach to online recruitment and enrollment in a Pfizer study has failed. And don't expect the drug giant ($PFE) to embark on an end-to-end online recruitment effort for the rest of the year, one of the architects of the trial told FierceBiotech IT

Pfizer has generated plenty of buzz about the pioneering study, the first completely virtual trial for an approved overactive bladder drug called Detrol, last year, even gaining a nod from the FDA's chief drug regulator, Janet Woodcock, for the effort. But in March the media caught wind that recruitment was stagnant, as U.S. patients were reluctant to jump aboard the study via Pfizer's online process. Fast-forward a few months, and after Pfizer added human support to boost enrollment, and Pharmalot informed us that the pharma group is pulling the plug.

"Recruitment has been very challenging," Craig Lipset, head of clinical innovation at Pfizer, told Silverman. "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."

Lipset believes that 90% of the strategies used to enable patients to participate in the study from their homes succeeded, he said in an interview with FierceBiotech IT. "There are a number of key components that we can use to make our clinical trials more convenient and accessible to patients and investigators," he said.

To be clear, Pfizer has always maintained that the online recruitment plan for the Detrol trial was itself an experiment, and the company had little to lose with the outcome of the drug study other than face. Pfizer plans to apply the successful elements or modules of the virtual trial—including a multimedia informed consent process, virtual patient checkups and use of mobile phones and computers in patients' homes—in the company's clinical trials.

Pfizer aims to renew the virtual trial effort next year with a revamped strategy for engaging patients in the enrollment process, Silverman reports. In the meantime, Lipset and his colleagues expect the company to continue to use social media tools to support trials recruitment that involves traditional strategies of finding study participants. A lack of patient education about clinical research remains a hurdle for all trials, Lipset says, and that could explain why some qualified patients went to the website for Pfizer's virtual study and opted not to participate.

- read Pharmalot's article

Editor's note: This article was updated with additional information from Pfizer's Craig Lipset.

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