I love politics (I do realize that there aren't many people like me) and a history buff who also likes nothing better than watching a live comedy.
Published August 17th 2012
Become a Guinea Pig
Predictions are gloomy, the economy is stagnating quicker than an algae infested pond and you just don't know if you're going to be employed in a few months or will be living in a cardboard box under a bridge. Yet before you're in such a dire financial situation that you're thinking about taking a bath with a toaster, why not participate on a medical trial?
Admittedly for most people testing experimental drugs is going to be a lot further down the list of ways to make money than cleaning toilets or removing asbestos from pipes. Yet statistically someone en route to participate in a medical trial has more chance of being mugged or knocked down by a car than ever dying or falling seriously ill from testing a new drug.
While you are reading this, in various medical research centres across London, hundreds of people are participating in drugs trial and the chances are they will leave the research centre alive and with nothing more than the promise of a decent sized cheque.
That said, of course, you are participating in the testing of a new drug and that does by definition mean there are unknown factors that could cause you problems. In 2007, in London a drug trial went terribly wrong with volunteers heads apparently "swelling up to the size of elephants" No one died, though one volunteer had to have the ends of his fingers amputated. Yet such incidents are so extremely rare that it still doesn't stop many people volunteering on trials, some coming time and time again.
Though they exist throughout the UK, London is by far the city with the most medical research centres, this thus gives a person the option of looking at various medical trials at different centres and pick one that fits in their schedule and of course pays well.
As medical trials strongly appeal to the travelling backpacking community that stay in London a few months purely to gain funds for travels around the world, the free TNT magazine that is available outside of major stations usually has an advertisement for research centres, as occasionally does the Big Issue homeless magazine.
There are three main research centre's round London that seem to run trials constantly are;
Parexcel The Parexcel International Clinical Pharmacology Research Unit can be found at:
Northwick Park Hospital*
Middlesex HA1 3UJ
Free phone** 0800 3898930 (new volunteers registration line)
01895 614888 (study enquiry line for registered volunteers)
Hammersmith Medical Research
HMR (Hammersmith Medical Research)
Telephone: 020 8961 4130
Fax: 020 8961 8665
No one person's experience of a centre is the same as another's, so it would be unfair to list these centre preferentially. Guy's Hospital for example seems to pay more than other centres, while Hammersmith has better food.
One centre that doesn't seem to be rated highly is Richmond Pharmacology in South Croydon. This is quite possibly because they pay less, do not allow volunteers to have mobile phones and ask for a registration fee of 10 pound while other research centre's do not.
St George's University London
SW17 0RE UK www.richmondpharmacology.com
Tel: 44 (0) 20 8664 5200
Fax: 44 (0) 20 8664 5201
Finally, Flu Camp based near Kings Cross is researching treatments for the possible resurgence of the devastating 1918 Flu epidemic that killed more people in a few months than during the entire First World War. Flu Camp pays more than all other centres, though their trials are few and far between.
Flu Camp Retro Screen Virology
44 (0) 800 756 6334
Retroscreen Virology Ltd,
Queen Mary BioEnterprises
42 New road
2 The Phone Call
Once you have looked at the websites of the research centres and found a trial that you are interested in then it's a case of phoning them and simply saying "Hello I'm a new volunteer interested in one of your trials" Be sure to be somewhere quiet when you make this call as they will ask you a series of questions on your state of health that could last 15 minutes. Even if you can't find a trial on their website, phone them anyway it's quite possible a new trial has not been put online yet and your call might thus guarantee you a first place.
3. The screening
If you have lied on the phone call and have said you are super fit when in fact you have a massive beer gut then it will all become evident at the screening. By going down to the respective research centre you will undergo an ECG (electro cardiogram) to monitor your heart, have a urine test, and have blood taken. (Any person who has a problem with someone sticking a needle in your arm should forget drug trials as it's an almost a daily occurrence) If you are deemed to be healthy and can do the dates of the trial then you will be offered a place on condition your medical history from your doctor does not reveal anything they should be worried about
4. The Doctors Report
At the screening the staff will ask you to provide the name and address of your Doctor and their NHS surgery. You cannot do a trial without being registered with a doctor in the UK as they will have all your past medical history. Doctors are paid to complete a report on your medical history and return it to the research centre, so it's in their interests they do it for you, however they are invariably busy and filling in your report so you can make a lot of money is not high on their list of priorities. Some Doctors ask for at least 10 days to fill in and return the report. Make sure you give them the time, and remember that without the report you can't go on the trial.
The research centre will phone you to confirm your place on the trial and what time you have to arrive. Once you arrive your details will be taken ID and bag checked. Not all centres check your bags when you come in however if they discover certain items it could mean you are faced with a fine or even dismissed off the trial. Cameras, food, drink, cigarettes are a definite no. It might be fun to take a photo of yourself, but the research centre testing a new drug isn't after publicity and they certainly won't like it. A list of what you need to bring - i.e. toiletries, towel etc. will be given to you at screening, where you will also be given detailed information on what the trial is all about.
A trial of say 15 persons will have 3 reserves. Reserves are people who are eligible to participate in a trial but have not been guaranteed a place because they already have enough volunteers. They are thus placed on standby in case another volunteer drops out or because their blood and urine results do not fall within the accepted parameters. Someone who is extremely healthy and with a guaranteed place on the trial could be thrown off simply because the day before they went for a long distance cycle and thus raise the enzymes in their blood or had a beer. A pint that could be the most expensive they have ever had when they are taken off the trial and thus potentially lose a few thousand pounds!
7. Phase 1, 2, 3
Medical Trials are broken down into three types;
Phase 1 - Volunteers are asked to test a drug that hasn't been tested on humans before. This may sound discouraging however the drug has been exhaustively tested on animals long before it even gets near any human. What's more it's highly likely that while "it is the first time into humans" that does not mean you or indeed your group of volunteers are the first humans to have the drug. Most medical trials have a number of groups within the same trial testing the same drug. Thus you can be assured that they will not be testing a new drug on you if the previous group is now being wheeled to the mortuary!
Phase 2 - Is a drug that is tested on people with an existing condition, for example a Trial might be asking for people who already have diabetes to test a new drug that could help cure it.
Phase 3 - is a drug that has been tested on humans before, however it's possibly the way it is administered that is now being tested. For example a powdered drug to ease asthma could now be delivered in a much more user friendly inhaler.
It would seem logical to suppose that phase one trials are paid more than phase three, but this generally not so. To begin with the company manufacturing the drug wants to make a profit with the final product and a drug deemed too dangerous is never going to reach the market place let alone pass the ethics committee*
How much a volunteer is paid is dependent on the research company testing the drug, the drugs company that has made the drug, and most of all the inconvenience to the volunteer.
Spending thirty continuous days in a research centre could pay over 3000 pounds, however you could get 2000 pounds for just 10 days on a trial if the trial for example requires the volunteer to stay overnight in a centre then leave and come back two days later for another overnight stay and then leave and come back again and so forth.
(*an independent group of people who oversee all medical trials to determine they meet basic safety and ethical criteria)
8 - In the Ward
A medical research ward is very much like a hospital ward though with the obvious difference that the people laying in their beds are usually there because they are in the best of health, a fact that some nurses who have spent years working with the sick and dying in a normal hospital, find truly wonderful.
A medical trial is about routine with blood pressures, temperatures and ECGs being taken on certain times throughout the day and sometimes nights. The big day is dosing day when the ward will be a hive of activity and full of medical staff making sure the drug is given at exactly the right time and in the correct way. Outside of such medical procedures a volunteer's day is then her or his own to watch TV in the comfy lounge area, play games, read, sleep or study.
9 - Pay Day
At the time of writing a volunteer is paid on average around 150 pounds per day. At the end of the trial the volunteer will be discharged and ask to return for a follow up visit in approximately 10 days. After the follow up visit payment is either posted, paid directly into an account or ready for a volunteer to pick up in person. Then it's over. After going so long without alcohol a lot of volunteers then go and get drunk. Then it's the stipulated three month wait until they safely do another trial.
Still not sure? One way of looking at a medical trial is that the drug you test could be used for the betterment of mankind with you then bettering mankind even further by generously donating all that hard earned money to a charity instead of spending it on that sun drenched beach holiday to Thailand.
What a fascinating article David, and well written. I used to work on the 'other side of the fence', both running a clinical trials department testing drugs for pharma companies, and then for a pharma company designing studies to test drugs. In Australia, volunteers don't tend to get the big bucks that are apparently available in London. For some trials (albeit, they were usually phase 3 or 4 trials) we only reimbursed travel costs and occasionally coughed up for a dodgy hospital sandwich. And our volunteers were more elderly (and often sick), we didn't get the joy of working with young backpackers. It really depends on the pharma company and how intrusive the trial is. Peeing in a jar is one thing, stool samples and having a cannula put in is quite another. Cheers, Shannon