Students taking part in clinical trials: What you need to know

You've seen the flyers around campus. Maybe you've wondered what being a medical guinea pig is like? Tom Clarke finds out more

Students around the country are feeling the pinch when it comes to their living costs. Many are choosing to take the strain off the bank of Mum and Dad by supplementing their maintenance loans through alternative income sources.

Here's one: pharmaceutical companies are crying out for volunteers, given that around one quarter of paid UK clinical trials finish early because of a lack of suitable participants. 

When people are asked whether they would volunteer for a clinical trial they seem to fall into two camps. On one side, some consider medical tests to be fraught and reckless, and on the other, are those who see the prospect of earning £4,000 in a 30-day trial as easy money. The reality of life as a test subject, in the majority of cases, is far removed from both.

What to expect

If you are volunteering in a phase 1 clinical trial - which means the drug is being trialled for the first time on human patients - then you can expect daily rates of around £120. However for clinical trials it’s not as simple as turning up on the day and handing over a few bodily fluids while you pop a couple of pills.

There is an extensive audition process to see if individuals are right for the trial.  James Merryland*, a 22-year-old law student, recently volunteered for a phase 1 clinical trial that was looking to test a drug that reduces inflammation on the lungs. This week trial involved two three-hour pre-screening sessions, four days in a clinic and a three-hour follow-up. For this, James received £1,100 plus food and board when staying at the clinic.

He underwent a thorough medical examination that included a physician taking his BMI, weight, blood, urine, heart rate and V02 max. After passing this initial assessment, James signed documents stating he understood what he was volunteering for and accepted the marginal risks involved.

“They told me there might be no side effects," he said, "but that I might feel slightly lethargic for a few days or develop mild flu like symptoms.”

Duty of care

This does not mean that the company did not have a duty of care towards James and his safety. The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) screens all drugs that are put forward for clinical trial. All clinical trials are also put before an Independent Ethics Committee to ensure it is in the interests of the public and medical profession. The rights of the subjects are also protected by an independent review board (IRB). The number one priority of IRBs is to protect human subjects from serious physical or psychological harm.

Dr Ben Goldacre, research fellow in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, believes that one of the fears people have is that they might be given some new and elaborate experimental drug'.

"Firstly, that is very uncommon, and secondly, before you start the trial people will explain very clearly what you are getting. There are some disadvantages to participating in a clinical trial and most of those revolve around inconvenience.”

In separate trial, Emily Jones*, a 23-year-old history student, was flown to Mexico and provided with top-level medical insurance, a week’s accommodation and an emergency phone while she tested a drugs patch to stop traveller’s diarrhoea. Emily duly received 'much better medical insurance' than she otherwise would have.

She was expected to attend three check-ups at specified places in Mexico and Guatemala while on a six-week trip she had organised with friends. Overall Emily had to wear the patch for a total of two months. Not only was the majority of the trip paid for but the patch worked for Emily as she didn’t get ill.

“The experience has definitely made me think about volunteering for trials again in the future,” she said.


Both James and Emily cited the real difficulty with volunteering with these trials was the inconvenience caused by having to attend repeated check-ups, rather than the risk posed by the drugs themselves.

“Whilst in clinic I was told to meet certain requirements as far as the food I ate and at what time I ate it,” said James, who was also prohibited from drinking alcohol for the week, and expected to use two methods of contraception for three months after the trial to negate the risk of any side effects being past to a third party via bodily fluids.

“If you failed to meet any of these requirements, I was told my payment would be dramatically reduced.”

Despite the risk and the strict rules over his lifestyle for the week, James enjoyed the experience, he said, “I’m in the middle of revising for my final exams of my law degree, I spent any downtime I had at the clinic revising, except this time I was getting paid for it!”

There is always risk and it is always best to know exactly what the short-term and long-term consequences of the trial, yet it seems the real trying aspect of any extended trial is the inconvenience that it brings as far as attending repeated meetings and examinations. If you can stomach this, as well as the pills, then the financial reward and knowledge that you’re contributing to medical science may make you seriously consider clinical trials as a viable way of supplementing a student income.

* Names have been changed

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral