Drug developers are coming to realize over time that placing a larger emphasis on online clinical trial recruitment efforts is critical in getting trials recruited on-time and on-budget. According to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development 2016 R&D Management Report on Patient Recruitment and Retention, in spite of the high number of participants needed for a successful succession of clinical trials, “11% of sites in a given trial fail to enroll a single patient,” while delays in getting clinical trials enrolled can cost companies as much as $1.3 million daily in lost sales, according to CenterWatch. Year after year, clinical trials have more competition to gain the attention of patient communities, and outmoded recruitment techniques such as mass marketing and cold calling simply do not deliver the results that pharmaceutical companies need to remain competitive.
If you’re looking for a guide into what it takes to break into the online clinical trial recruitment process, there are three layers that firms need to be aware of as they begin designing their recruitment campaigns. In order to be successful, drug developers need to focus on resources, web assets, and communities.
Online clinical trial recruitment is like a sales and marketing campaign
Drug development companies — and particularly small pharmas who are pre-revenue — are not in the business of marketing and selling anything. With maybe the exception of garnering investors, drug development is not about selling. And yet, when it comes to engaging with prospective clinical trial participants online, the process is more akin to a sales and marketing campaign than anything else.
In our previous blog, we’ve talked about how attracting clinical trial participants is a process, and that they need to be brought into a sales-like funnel in order to finally count them as a conversion. To bring prospective participants into your funnel, you need to be engaged in inbound marketing and promotion. Obsolete clinical trial recruitment efforts, such as call centers and mass media campaigns, are positively outbound marketing efforts — they are reaching out through cold channels through inefficient methods to reach a target patient population. It’s a numbers game that soaks up time, money and resources for a poor return on investment.
In online clinical trial recruitment, inbound digital marketing and promotion brings prospective participants into your funnel through their own organic, self-selecting online behavior. This is where you want to place your resources.
The first layer in online clinical trial recruitment is committing to allocating resources for making the campaign a success. In “Patient Recruitment and Clinical Vendor Fees Top Clinical Trial Cost Drivers” white paper by Cutting Edge Info, “at 32% of total clinical trial cost, patient recruitment is the biggest cost associated with the process.” There is not doubt that drug developers need to invest in patient recruitment, but the question is — where is it being invested?
Traditionally, drug development companies have invested the lion’s share of recruitment resources into outbound and mass marketing efforts. If you’re serious about engaging patient communities online, then you need to be willing to shift some of those resources to online efforts.
There are several areas where drug developers can spend money to increase their reach into patient communities:
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC): PPC ad platforms such as Google and Facebook give online marketers the opportunity to place ads in highly targeted areas. With Google, an ad can be placed into the search results of search terms that pertain only to the topics that concern your clinical trial. On Facebook, an ad can be targeted to specific groups and interests. In either case, you are paying “per click” to send this targeted traffic somewhere — most likely a website, where you can potentially capture leads from clinical trial participants.
- Banner Ads: There is plenty of ad space to be purchased on health and medical websites that can expose the clinical trial to target groups. While it can be a challenge to get banner ads in front of the right sets of eyes, advertising is an important place to move resources to if you’re going to engage in an online campaign.
- Press Releases: Press releases are an important way to get the word out about the progress of clinical trial recruitment online. In the past, they’ve been used to keep the investment world up to date on trials, but press releases also get the word out to other outlets. Resources for not only writing press releases but distributing them need to be factored into an online budget.
- Content Campaigns: There are opportunities online to publish and promote sponsored articles and content campaigns that can deliver news about your clinical trial into the right communities. Content campaigns can be published on any web asset, such as a website as well as a social media platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, or even YouTube.
For many of these, the resources involved are mainly money, since drug developers rarely have the on-site staff to create content, creative, and other promotional deliverables, much less have the time and aptitude to relegate ad spend through different online channels. Often times, PR and ad agencies work as an intermediary in order to create deliverables as well as function as an ad buyer and project manager for ensuring that resources are put to best use and yield the most optimal results.
Regardless of how much funding and resources a drug development company is willing to invest in to launch online recruitment campaigns, there needs to be an outlet for the resources to be applied to. The second layer of recruiting online for clinical trials involves web assets that make sense for your campaign. PR firms can only go so far in servicing an online clinical trial recruitment campaign — typically, a PR firm neither owns nor manages web assets, and because of this, they need to spend a drug developer’s money to gain access to websites and social media channels that reach directly into online patient communities.
Establishing a web presence takes more than simply building a corporate website. Whether you build a clinical trial recruitment website or gain access to a platform where you can drive targeted traffic to your trial information, acquiring web assets is the next critical step in the process.
Some examples of web assets include:
- Clinical Trial Recruitment Websites: Separate from a drug developer’s corporate website, a clinical trial recruitment website is a destination point for all targeted traffic. While drug development companies need to adhere to the strict ethical and regulatory guidelines issued by the FDA and EMA in launching and presenting such websites, they are a necessary component of collecting pre-screen leads for prospective participants.
- Third-party Websites: Websites that focus on a particular disease can be a powerful vehicle for either driving niche traffic to a clinical trial recruitment website, or in collecting leads directly. These websites are also usually where ad and content campaigns are launched.
- E-mail Subscribers and E-Blasts: Many foundations and websites feature large, targeted subscriber e-mail lists that can be leveraged to drive high quality traffic and pick up subscribers. So-called “e-blasts” deliver a custom message to all of the subscribers, and include a link to where they can find out more information and fill out a contact form. Weekly e-newsletters can also feature a recurring ad that takes people to a web destination.
- Social Media Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media platforms are incredibly effective places to advertise and build a web presence, since they are often the foundation for vibrant patient communities. Many third-party websites operate corresponding social media accounts and have build large, concurrent social media following in addition to their website traffic. These accounts in and of themselves can be leveraged to power online clinical trial recruitment.
The strategy for acquiring access to web assets is to determine the ones that deliver the most focused, targeted traffic for your campaign. Large health information websites can put up huge traffic numbers for you, but how much of the traffic is pertinent to your inclusion/exclusion criteria? The way to determine value is not simply whether web assets can deliver traffic, but also whether that traffic is truly niche.
The third layer of clinical trial recruitment online are accessing communities. The end result of spending resources and creating/acquiring access to web properties is ultimately to access and engage online patient communities. Now more than ever, patients of chronic diseases are turning to the web to access information and find advice and support from fellow patients and caregivers. A 2012 survey by Accenture, a leading global professional services company, highlighted the rapid rise of patient-centric healthcare, with statistics revealing that an overwhelming number of people with health issues and chronic diseases are turning to the digital realm to better manage their treatment options. The survey indicated that “90% of patients want online access to health information and education to help manage conditions,” along with an increase in digital and mobile technologies to allow them to schedule reminders, book doctors’ appointments, and refill prescriptions.
What patient communities are looking for online are trusted, authoritative sources of information and content. Platforms that engage specific patient communities the most effectively online hit these major points:
- The content is targeted: The more specific the focus is on a particular web asset, the more likely it is that the patient community that follows it sees that asset as a trusted, authoritative source. Niche marketing, publishing and promotion give drug developers the opportunity to focus 100% of their resources into communities that are receptive to messaging that is positioned within this type of content.
- The content is varied: Patient communities engage the most with web assets that offer a wide range of content specific to their disease. While static information about diseases can be helpful to new patients, those who live with chronic diseases also seek out daily news, blogging, and social media content. Having access to assets that utilize these content types on a regular basis have the best opportunity to connect with the patients you need for your clinical trial.
- The content speaks to them: Apart from basic disease information, so much of content online for diseases is geared toward researchers, physicians, and investors. A patient focus to the content is quite often left out. Web assets that place an emphasis on patient-focused content benefits the most from patient engagement, which puts you in the best position to benefit from it.
BioNews Services content model for all of its 50+ disease-specific websites and complementary social media assets is to create and engage patient communities. Our offering to drug development companies for clinical trial recruiting online encompasses all of the necessary components for successful conversions:
- Our own web assets, including websites, social media accounts and e-mail lists.
- A variety of disease-specific content, including news, blogging, info pages, and social media.
- A niche, targeted focus that speaks directly to patients.
When you’re ready to invest resources into recruiting online, be sure to put those resources in a position where they can deliver the most return on investment in recruiting the patients you need for success.
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