Do you want to make some extra money but don’t want the hassle of a minimum-wage job? Do you need to make a good sum of money quickly because you have bills to pay now? Then clinical trials may be the answer for you. Before you get all squeamish about becoming a lab rat, though, here are some basic facts about clinical trials:
- Inpatient vs. outpatient trials
Inpatient clinical trials require that the subject (meaning you) stay at the facility for the length of the study, including overnight. Outpatient clinical trials require that the subject appear for the initial screening and trial start and then complete several follow-up visits.
- Control vs. test group
Study participants are categorized into control and test groups. The control group is typically not administered the intervention and usually receives the placebo. Participants may also be recruited for the direct purpose of being part of the control group; for example, a study may need participants who do not have diabetes so that their responses can be compared to those participants who do have diabetes.
- Phase I, II or III
If the clinical trial involves the development of a new drug or medical procedure, that intervention must pass through a series of tests, or phases, before being approved by the FDA. Phase I trials assess the safety of the intervention relative to placebo. Phase II trials assess intervention efficacy (i.e., does it work). Phase III trials fine-tune intervention dosing, confirm efficacy, etc.
- High pay
Clinical trials pay between $50-$300 per day/visit, with compensation dependant upon the length of the time required as well as the procedures performed. Overnight stays typically pay more money than those involving repeat visits. Likewise, the more invasive the procedures, the more monetary compensation that is provided.
Aside from the money, however, there are some major benefits to participating in clinical trials. For starters, clinical trials require that the subject undergo a physical examination. If it’s been a while since your last physical check-up, this is a good way to find out about your health. Drug trials often require more extensive examinations; you might be required to undergo an EEG, EKG, MRI or a complete blood analysis. The findings from such expensive tests can be invaluable for your personal health.
Assuming you have a condition that is being studied in a clinical trial, that trial can even end up saving your life. Each year, thousands of cancer patients sign up for clinical trials in the hopes that such trials will cure or at least delay their cancer. However, even if all you have is a simple allergy, participating in a clinical trial that attempts to treat your condition can go a long way towards ridding you of this annoyance.
Finally, there is the humanitarian aspect of participating in clinical trials. Without human test subjects, many currently successful treatments for HIV and AIDS would not exist. Likewise, many vaccines on the market today owe their realization to volunteers who willingly underwent testing. Medicine does not advance without the altruism of human test subjects.
My personal history with clinical trials
Back when I was a struggling graduate student at the National Institutes of Health, I sought out and participated in a number of clinical trials. The resource I used to find out about clinical trials was the website ClinicalTrials.gov. N.I.H. clinical trials are offered all over the United States and worldwide, by the way, not just at its main campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
One of the major clinical trials that I participated in was at the National Institute for Mental Health. There, I underwent a series of fMRI scans as the control (or so they told me) in a gambling study. This trial was actually quite fun because I got to gamble while lying inside of the scanner. If I placed my bets just right, I actually won money in addition to the pay I was making from the study. I made roughly $100 for every hour I spent inside of the fMRI.
By the time my gambling study was done, I’d accumulated roughly $1550, with $50 of that money coming from gambling.
After this study closed, I was asked if I wanted to undergo a PET scan for a Parkinson’s disease drug study. The only hitch here was that the medication was radioactive. I made sure to ask every question I could think of before saying yes to this study. When I was done, I had $500 in my pocket.
Once I graduated and moved to Madison, I looked up clinical trials at the University of Wisconsin. I located a Phase III allergy study and qualified for it once a skin prick test confirmed that I had a ragweed allergy. For the next six months, I took a daily sub-lingual dose of ragweed extract in order to soften my body’s reaction to ragweed. I also recorded any allergy symptoms that I experienced.
For this study, I was required to show up at the lab once a month and give an update of my condition (which included an annoying pregnancy test every single time). At each of these follow-up visits, I was paid $75. By the time the study was complete, I was $675 richer and hopefully allergy-free.
A year later, the UW allergy study coordinator informed me that I had previously been assigned to the placebo group. This meant that I had not been taking the study medication at all. Although this sounded disappointing, it also qualified me to do the allergy study again. I agreed to a repeat study and by the end of another 6 months had amassed another $675 (and was maybe and finally allergy-free).
I also signed up for two clinical trials conducted by Covance, a company that performs thousands of drug trials for pharmaceutical companies and other labs. Covance pays extremely well for participation in clinical trials; however, the physical criteria for its studies can be difficult to achieve. Also, because the studies pay so well, there is an overabundance of volunteers. Some people actually earn a good living (i.e., $60,000/year) by participating in Covance trials.
I signed up for a $4,200 HIV drug trial with Covance and spent nearly a day there getting qualified. In the end, the techs didn’t like my EKG very much and disqualified me. I still made $100 for my time, though.
The second time I showed up at Covance, it was for a $1,700 fat absorption drug study. This time, I probably would’ve physically qualified; however, due to the large number of volunteers, a lottery had to be conducted. Needless to say, I didn’t win- though I did make $50 for my time.
Things to consider about clinical trials:
In the United States, the FDA regulates clinical trials through what’s known as its principles of Good Clinical Practice (GCP) that focus on human subject protection (HSP). However, some clinical trials still manage to slip under the FDA radar and violate basic GCP principles. Protect yourself from undue harm by doing the following:
- Always read the research protocol and ask questions. If there is something in the protocol that you don’t understand, don’t be shy about requesting more information. The study coordinator should know the answers to your questions, or if not, contact the head scientist on the study for clarification.
- You have the right to end your participation in the study at any time. If you become too uncomfortable with the study to continue it, then you have the right to quit it without losing the compensation you have received thus far. Furthermore, a good study coordinator should ask you at every follow-up visit if you wish to continue the study.
- Remember that not all clinical trials are safe. Clinical trials test drugs and therapies whose side effects are still unknown. Some test medications are dissolved in compounds to which you could have an allergy or other reaction. If your gut tells you that a particular study isn’t safe, don’t do it! There are plenty of other clinical trials through which you can participate and make money.