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No shortage of drug test volunteers

25th June 2007

The risk of taking part in clinical trials was graphically illustrated last year following trials at Northwick Park Hospital in London when six people suffered multiple organ failure.

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Yet, according to the drugs companies, the number of volunteers for such trials did not fall as a result. Instead, it went up.

Almost a year on BBC Five Live’s Drive programme took an in-depth look at the business of drug development, speaking to those working in the industry and those who still volunteer for trials.

Accountant Philippe is one who takes part in the trials and he spoke to the radio programme’s researchers from the Pfizer research headquarters at the Erasme Hospital campus in Brussels.

He had agreed to try out a new drug designed to treat asthma. It increased his heart beat, made him tremble and made him go to the toilet. But he seemed unconcerned.

"The impact itself is not so bad as it sounds, it's minor," he said

Philippe has been taking part n trials for a decade, starting at university when he needed the money but now because he thinks it is useful work.

"In those studies I've participated in several of the drugs have been further developed and commercialised," he told Five Live.

"I do know that several of those drugs are now on the market. And today there are several hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are cured, or at least treated with medication I have helped to develop. Of course my input was very small."

Companies like Pfizer put together thousands of compounds every year in their laboratories. They are tried on animals before being tried on people and only a couple of dozen of those thousands make it from the laboratory to the clinical trial on people. If Philippe and the others react badly, it goes no further.

But the cost of a drug which makes it to the market is on average more than £500 million.

 

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