Making Money From Clinical Trials: Worth the Risk?

by Darwins Money on 23 May 2011 10 comments
Photo: 4774344sean

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?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I've done a couple of low-paying tests for scent perception and cognitive abilities, and I had good experiences both times. (Well, they were good experiences if you don't count the part where, after staying completely still in an MRI for an hour-and-a-half, I felt like my hands were on backwards. That was weird.) But medication tests always made me a little nervous, even though I know that drugs have to be a certain level of safe if they make it to human testing.

Has anybody else participated in clinical trials? What were your experiences?

Guest's picture
Guest

I was in a blind study twice. The first time was for anxiety. It was okay no side effects did get paid well. Study lasted several weeks and we got paid weekly. We took medication and talked to psychiatrists. The second time it was for depression and also took medication. I know that I had the real deal when I was given a pill and it was way to strong and my heart started pounding in my chest and couldn't keep my legs still it was a few hours before my body finally calmed down. At one point my husband was going to take me to the emergency room. They were very apologetic the next day and said I was given the wrong dosage. No more trials for me!

Guest's picture

I did a clinical trial for BC pills and made some money, along with free doctor's visits for the year. It was a good experience and I would totally do it again.

Guest's picture
Kimberly

I work in clinical trials management and agree that people should not be participating in a clinical trial for the purpose of making money. People should have the desire to participate in order to further science and possibly benefit patients that need the drug that is being studied. Part of the paperwork you were given the day you signed up for your trial was an informed consent form (ICF). This ICF should've explained the purpose of the study, that you are participating in research, the possible risks and benefits, the sponsor company's name and a whole bunch of other information about what you were getting yourself into. ICFs will always specify that you have the right to withdraw your consent to participate at anytime in the trial without any repercussions or loss of benefits. If it does not say this, the study you were participating in was not abiding by the law. ICFs will have a section regarding injury, and should specify who will be liable for medical bills incurred should you suffer any injuries as a result of participating on the trial. Sponsor companies always have an insurance policy to cover these kinds of instances. You participated in an early phase study, so it would seem that there is very little benefit for you to participate other than for monetary purposes, however the majority of the human subject trials recruit patients with active diseases that are in need of cure. For these people, money is the least incentive for them to participate in a study. I personally probably wouldn't to participate in an early phase trial either, but if I end up getting a disease without a good cure in the future, I would search for a trial to participate on.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, I've done quite a few in the late 80's and mid 90's. I have to admit I did do it for the money. I wasn't working at the time and it helped me to survive. But the good part is I knew that I was helping medical science and life saving and quality of life drugs that eventually save and create a better quality of life for the sick have to be tested on someone at some point. I always had good experiences and made friends. It was nice to stop the "rat race" for awhile and be taken care of and fed. I haven't done any lately but if I were comfortable enough with one, yes I would do it again.

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Jenna

Well I participated in one because I really needed the money at the time. What was I supposed to do with bills lining up, job interviews not coming way, and etc. I really had no choice at that point. An opportunity presented itself and I got paid $3600 for a 21 day trial. I was well-fed (gained 6lbs!!!), able to chat with my fellow colleagues, watched tv and movies, room and board (air conditioning and everything) and brought my laptop to surf the free internet. The easiest $3600 I ever made (and tax free too). They checked your vitals everyday, constantly asked how you were feeling, and if there was slightest problem in your vitals they would have you checked out and send you to the hospital (which was down stairs). I would do it again if I ever found myself in that situation again and besides its for a good cause.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am participating in a drug trial now. I do have the desire to assist research for this particular drug because I have a family member who might benefit, although I have to admit that money was a significant motivator. Thus far, it has been a good experience. I have met some really nice people, and the staff has treated us well. My only complaint is the food. I am generally a consumer of fresh, natural whole foods, so I find the canned, frozen, freeze-dried, mass-prepared, chemical-laden institutional meals rather unpleasant. Fortunately, the periods of confinement are limited, as the study consists mostly of day visits to the facility.

At this point, I would not discourage anyone from participating in a clinical trial. Just make sure you are fully informed and ask questions if you have any concerns.

Guest's picture
alan

are clinical trials like a job, what i mean is, would i have to tell the job center that i'm about to earn just over £3000 for sitting around? it says "we compensate you for your time" so basically would i need to come off what ever benefits i am on?

there is a clinical trial in jan 2013 that i want to take part in thats for 15 days and pays up to £3,000 could really do with the cash!.

cheers

Guest's picture
Guest

I've got a roommate who does this (always the medical studies) for a living and has been for the past six years. The guy is a big time LOSER. He is very antisocial and is about as uninteresting as talking to bread. He says he does not want to have to work his whole life and doesn't want "work to define him," but he has no hobbies and never goes out of the house unless he's getting food. A very sad and lonely life. He is thirty six and still relies on his mom to give him money sometimes when he can't pay his bills on time. His body is very unattractive and I'm sure part of that is from the studies. He also tries to do the bare minimum as far as eating so he doesn't have to pay much in life. Seems like a life style where you have given up and are waiting to die. To me, this is a tactic that is one step up from a homeless person or panhandler. I would suggest that you not try to do these for a living because it becomes you: you will not be developing any skills or contacts because it's not meant to be a job, and you will have even more trouble trying to get a real job afterward. You probably also will start despising life and the guy seems like he secretly hates everyone and is jealous of people who are good looking or are popular or rich in life. DON'T LET THIS BE YOU! He deserves to be called a loser...

Guest's picture
Guestblake

I've done medical trials for 15 years, at places such as bipharma, apotex and pharamamedica. They are a great experience and I have never experience side effects, but that is not to say others would have similar results. If you don't mind getting needles this is a great way to get extra money