Last night ABC World News Tonight carried a piece about clinical trial recruitment and cancer. It was an important piece, not only because of clinical trial recruitment generally, but also as a piece, spoke to the need of great public relations involvement in recruitment.
The focus was that there are a number of clinical trials underway for cancer, but that the trials are hampered by low recruitment among cancer patients.
When a cancer patient enters a clinical trial, unlike other types of clinical trials, the arms of the clinical study are not divided between placebo and drug, they are divided between drug and another drug. It would not be ethical to give a cancer patient a placebo.
Most people do not understand that. Up until now, most recruitment for clinical trials has been premised on advertising. Ads tell patients that clinical trials are occurring and they can sign up.
But one of the telling things about the story on ABC World News Tonight was that most cancer patients rely on their physicians to tell them about clinical trials, which is not happening.
The segment ran on the news show was a product of public relations, not advertising. The lesson here is that there is an expanding role for public relations in clinical trial recruitment. Advertisement alone, particularly in a life threatening illness, aren’t going to sufficiently fill the need. It is public relations that can speak to patients in a very targeted way that advertising cannot, that will win the day. The segment speaks for itself.
This is particularly true when it comes to minority recruitment. Too often, sponsors of new therapies come to the table with a clinical trial population that is mostly Caucasian. Recruitment in minority populations is a challenge, and one that public relations can promise more success over advertising. An ad can impart important information. Public relations can convey meaning to people that motivates involvement.
As the demographics of this country change, this is an important lesson. Sponsors need to start planning public relations strategies around clinical trial recruitment that to some degree, mirror those of drug launch in getting involvement from patients.