This isn't going to hurt at all: It's the ultimate 'slacker' career - you get paid for just lazing around. Douglas Rogers became a drugs guinea pig (CORRECTED)


On the sofa next to me, Michael was feeling the strain. His back ached from too much time in bed, his eyes stung from all the television he had watched, and there were at least two hours until dinner. He resorted to mental calculations of his earnings. 'Ten days done, pounds 1,000 in the bank; six days to go in the easiest job in London,' he droned. I gave him an uninterested nod and changed channels.

Michael and I were among a thousand 'patients' who passed through the drug research unit (GDRU) at Guy's Hospital in London last year. At pounds 100 a day, it is possible to earn pounds 1,400 for a fortnight's work. Work? I use the word loosely. A typical day in hospital consists of three meals, maternal nursing attention, limitless sleep and enough television to learn weather forecast theme tunes.

Established a decade ago, GDRU has surprisingly few British volunteers. More than 90 per cent of Guy's recruits are backpacking travellers and young tourists.

One such was Garvey, a self-styled traveller-cum-layabout South African with an MA. 'I've done trials for five years,' he said. 'I've never had a proper job and have no interest in a career. What's the point when this is the easiest money around?'

Garvey spent six months a year doing two trials in England and six months travelling on the takings. 'I'll do them for another ten years if they want me,' he said. The age limit for a volunteer is 40. At 28, Garvey had several years' slacking ahead of him.

Guy's does not advertise trials. Information travels the word-of- mouth highway across continents. 'More people know about London drug trials in South Africa and Australia than in Britain,' says Dr Jayson Dallas, a junior research physician. Of all the clinics travellers visit, Guy's is probably the most well-known and highly regarded. 'They're the most professional unit I've been to,' said Garvey. 'They explain everything clearly. I've never been sick. If the place didn't look safe I wouldn't do it.'

Five hundred recruits are turned away each year for failing rigid screening procedures designed to ensure recruits are of 'normal' health and will not react adversely to the drugs being tested.

Screening includes a comprehensive medical and physical examination with an HIV test that would normally cost more than pounds 200.

All drug courses have to be approved by an independent ethics committee and volunteers are informed of the risks they take. Doctors explain side-effects - in the worst cases dizziness, nausea or headaches - and answer any questions. Each recruit is given an instruction document which details the method and purpose of the study. If they are still uncertain, they can pull out.

On trial days the unit is less hospital ward than boys' boarding school dormitory: sweaty men slopping around in shorts or tracksuits, dozing off on sofas, talking sport in the common room.

The actual time giving blood and testing a drug is minimal. Each day is a losing battle against boredom, spent watching television and waiting for the next meal. The highlight of my internment was a curry followed by EastEnders.

Alcohol is prohibited throughout the course, though by some cruel quirk a pub is situated just across the street. I tried not to look at it. Various entertainment is provided to help tame the tedium: videos, video games, a bar billiards table. There are public telephones and visitors can come in the afternoons. I read every daily newspaper page to page, but by day three in the afternoons I was going mad.

Mercifully, my course was split up over three stays. Another group of volunteers, half-way through a continuous 16-day trial, had the glazed look of zombies. They might have earned twice as much, but they looked as if the extra would have to be spent on psychiatric treatment afterwards.

One avenue of entertainment was overlooked. Where were all the women? GDRU seldom do female studies because they require homoge5neous 'guinea pigs'. Although most drugs tested are ultimately used by women, research requires volunteers with a regular metabolism. Hormonal changes during a woman's menstrual cycle can alter results.

So we made do and joked with the nurses when they had time. They knew all our names, joined in games of Trivial Pursuit and did everything to make us feel comfortable. When we had to stay in bed they brought us our meals and set up a television set.

I was in a group of 12 testing a drug intended for treatment of multiple sclerosis. Despite the elaborate information we were given, taking the substance still scared me. Guy's commonly test anti-depressants and antibiotics. A multiple sclerosis trial was rare and somehow had frightening connotations.

I was given the dose three times - once for each visit to the unit. The dosage was a small percentage of that which an MS patient would normally receive. The pill was swallowed in the morning and blood and urine samples were taken at controlled times throughout the day. A cannula - a plastic tap-like valve - was inserted in my arm to make blood samples easier to take.

The effects of my drug were unspectacular: a slight headache that could have been caused by caffeine withdrawal or too much television. (Caffeine and exercise are also forbidden throughout a programme.) A week after my final visit, suffering no noticeable side-effects, I collected my cheque. It was that simple.

Not surprising then that some volunteers are turning professional. One Australian, completing his third trial at Guy's, has planned a visit to Berlin for a trial and will return to Guy's again in three months.

'I used to temp in a bank but that didn't pay,' he told me. 'This is the only way I've been able to make a decent living.'

The biggest danger 'professionals' face is ignoring recovery time. Guy's limit volunteers to three trials a year with a compulsory three-month break after each trial. Their reasoning is medically sound: blood taken during a trial is roughly equal to the volume taken in a standard blood donor session and a person can take up to three months to replenish those blood cells.

'Volunteers who don't follow the guidelines run a risk,' warns Dr Tim Mant, the unit's managing director. 'Those who don't wait the three months could become anaemic.'

There is also the danger that in overlapping courses new drugs will interact with chemicals not yet flushed out of the system. But, with clinics all over Britain and mainland Europe, there is no check on recruits running the gauntlet.

'There should be accredited units,' says Dr Mant. 'It's an odd situation in English law that you need to have a licence to give a drug to an animal but not so to a human being. There's nothing to stop someone setting up a unit on his own.'

In more than 10 years of research, Guy's has had what Dr Mant describes as 'two potentially life-threatening incidents'. One volunteer developed an allergic reaction to a drug resulting in severe neck swelling and blocking of the air passage. The patient received emergency medical treatment to reverse the process. The other involved a volunteer who passed out and required cardiac massage. In each case the patients survived without any after-effects.

Not so other clinics. A unit in Manchester closed down three years ago after a volunteer contracted hepatitis through infected needles. In Dublin, a volunteer had not told the unit he was having long-term treatment for schizophrenia. The trial drug reacted with the treatment drug and the volunteer died.

Dr Mant advises volunteers to ensure that any clinic they go to 'looks like a hospital' and has an ethics committee to control its courses.

Looking back, I could suggest a third proviso. To avoid death by boredom, book in during the next major televised sports event, say the European Football Championships. Dino, an Italy supporter from Cape Town, timed his trial for the World Cup and found it took his mind off worrying about the drugs. 'The only side-effect I had,' he said, 'was the stress of watching Italy lose.'


In an article 'This isn't going to hurt at all' (17 August) it was said that a drug research unit in Manchester closed down three years ago after a volunteer contracted hepatitis through infected needles. A subsequent official investigation found it likely that the virus, affecting five volunteers, was transmitted by blood to blood contact from an exceptionally infectious carrier but there was no evidence of the use of infected needles.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men