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Pfizer to develop online community to find new trials patients

Published on 24/08/09 at 10:59am

Pfizer is hoping to unlock the power of online communities to help it recruit more people for clinical trials.

Pfizer has teamed up with specialist company Private Access to develop a site which allows users to grant online access to their medical records to doctors and healthcare professionals, but otherwise keep them secure and confidential.

The US pharma company is the first to pioneer the system, which could help address the industry-wide problem of recruiting the right patients for clinical trials.

Pfizer's portal will also encourage social networking and allow patients to share their experience of taking part in clinical trials, which the company clearly hopes will encourage more to take part. The new platform and online community will be rolled out in phases, with the initial launch planned for late 2009.

Finding and recruiting large numbers of patients who are eligible to take part in trials is a costly and time consuming business. The cost of finding and enrolling patients onto trials more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, and continues to rise.

In particular, phase III trials require thousands of patients, and delays to recruiting people to take part in trials can cost pharma companies millions. The number of clinical studies being conducted has risen to more than 35,000, making competition for participants greater, but overall numbers of patients taking part has been declining.

Finally, study protocols are also becoming more complex, often meaning that eligibility criteria for patients is more difficult to fulfill.

Nearly 85% of patients in a recent survey said they were unaware that clinical trials were a possible treatment option, and 31% of physicians surveyed did not refer patients to trials due to, among other things, lack of information.

Another study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that the number one reason patients who were aware of trials were not willing to participate was fear that their health information would not remain confidential.

Freda Lewis-Hall,.Pfizer's chief medical officer commented: "Many patients who could benefit from participation in clinical trials dont enroll in them because they are not aware that potentially relevant research is under way or they cannot find a specific trial to meet their needs; others worry that they will lose control of their health information."

Pfizer and Private Access say they will allow other groups, including other pharma companies, to take part in the new community.

They say other clinical trial sponsors, patient advocacy groups, technology providers, and other key public and private stakeholders will all be invited to take part.

She added: "With unprecedented collaboration among key groups, Pfizer and Private Access believe we can build the pre-eminent online clinical trial community to be used industry-wide to share knowledge while giving patients the confidence and control to share their health information."

"A privacy-enhanced search engine for personal health information enables patients to simultaneously address their privacy concerns and improve access to care," said Robert Shelton, founder and chief executive of Private Access.

"It is great that the internet can be used today to find publicly available information for free in seconds or to locate potential employees for a small fee in minutes, yet it still takes months or years and often thousands of dollars per patient to locate individuals for clinical trials that might save or improve lives."

"By introducing technology that honours each patients privacy needs, we can leverage the efficiency of Internet-based search for clinical trial patients  speeding up the recruitment process and the discovery of new treatments," Shelton continued.

Greg Simon, senior vice president for worldwide policy at Pfizer said: "Patients are the most important stakeholders in medical research. By merging respect for their privacy with access to relevant and actionable medical information, we are giving patients more control over their destinies."

He concluded: "This collaboration has the potential to accelerate medical progress by putting patients' needs front and centre.''

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