Making Money From Clinical Trials: Worth the Risk?
As a broke college student, the allure of a huge payday for a weekend of "selling my body to science" was all too appealing. My roommate and I saw an ad for a study that would pay $750 for participating over a weekend. We had all the time in the world, needed money, and figured it was a no-brainer, so we signed up.
As it turns out, it was an early phase clinical trial for a migraine drug. In retrospect, I have my doubts whether the candidate ever made it to market, or at least at the dose we were subjected to. I was the lucky one — as I found out after the study, I received the placebo. My roommate got the good stuff. Shortly after an IV injection, he started to experience severe headaches, and then he threw up all over the place. This continued for some time and didn't subside until they dropped the dosing (which they administered every several hours). He was quite miserable. To make matters worse, we weren't allowed to talk to other people at the facility. They had some seemingly strange rules we never figured out. We joked that it was kind of like prison, but without the guards and shackles. We did have a PlayStation to pass the time, however, and it makes for some memorable conversation to this day. (See also: 9 Ways to Beat a Killer Headache)
Is Making Money From a Clinical Trial Worth the Risk?
All clinical trials are different, and they shouldn't be condemned outright. First off, I work in biotech, and I'm fully aware that without human trials, we'd never see any innovative drugs introduced. Chances are, if you're reading this, you've been the beneficiary of some sort of medicine or cosmetic that underwent both animal and human testing.
However, it's not something I'd recommend for my kids or other people looking to earn extra money. Like most things in life, the greater the risk, the greater you'd expect the pay to be. If you're testing out a cosmetic or you're a food taster, chances are you're not going to make nearly what you would in a medical clinical trial, where you're likely subjecting yourself to more risk. While it's rare, people do experience seriously adverse events and even death during clinical trials.
During the enrollment period, you'll be asked to review and sign various documents. Some good pointers in this month's Consumer Reports print edition include ensuring that you retain the right to sue for adverse effects and the right to withdraw at any time. I hadn't really thought of these things when I participated, and in retrospect, if my roommate tried to go home, I wonder if they would have forcibly detained him?
How to Find Clinical Trials
The most widely used (and legitimate) resource for clinical trial recruitment is through the registry at clinicaltrials.gov. However, often you'll also hear radio spots or see newspaper advertisements recruiting as well. As I recall, we found out about the trial through a campus newspaper ad. Word of mouth is another means to learn more about what the actual conditions and experiences were at the facility from people who already participated. If possible, it's ideal to find out what company is overseeing the trial and learn a bit about the facility in advance.
Personally, I don't see myself ever participating in a clinical trial again, but in the name of scientific progress, the medical community will always need volunteers and compensate them accordingly.
Have you ever participated in a clinical trial?