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T 24: Patient Recruitment on Social Media: a Qualitative Analysis of Strategies by Pharmaceutical Companies on Facebook and Twitter

Poster Presenter

      Joseph Fiore

      • Senior Clinical Scientist
      • Merck & Co., Inc.
        United States


The objectives of the study are to analyze different usage strategies of social media in clinical trial patient recruitment by pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations, and to examine each strategy from an ethical and regulatory viewpoint.



A retrospective, qualitative analysis was performed examining posts from pharmaceutical companies on Facebook and Twitter aimed at recruiting subjects for clinical research. Screenshots of posts are displayed and analyzed in context of ICH Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and FDA social media guidance.


Five examples of varying methods and demographics are characterized and evaluated in the study. 1) A large EU-based pharmaceutical company aggressively uses Twitter and Facebook to recruit US patients and healthcare professionals for specific oncology clinical trials, including a separate Facebook account solely dedicated to oncology clinical trial recruitment. 2) A small Canadian biotechnology company promotes a specific trial to irritable bowel disease (IDB) patients on Twitter, including a phone number, email address, and website for interested patients. 3) A large US-based contract research organization (CRO) uses Facebook to enlist healthy volunteers for early phase research, including specific payment amounts in their posts and utilizing a ‘Sign Up’ button at the top of the page. 4) A large US-based pharmaceutical company launches a Twitter dedicated to clinical trials, but uses it only to educate patients on the fundamentals of clinical research without links to actual studies. 5) A large US-based biotechnology company uses promoted (sponsored) Twitter ads to recruit ulcerative colitis patients.


Over 50% of pharmaceutical companies have a footprint on social media but these companies engage in very different breadth of activities on these sites. Only a minority of companies (<5%) use these platforms to recruit patients or researchers for clinical trials, and within that minority, the strategies differ greatly. Some companies’ approaches are very conservative, educating readers about clinical research or celebrating patients that have advanced science by participating in clinical trials, while other companies' approaches more closely straddle ethical and good clinical practice boundaries by potentially unduly influencing patients with compensation figures or not mentioning other treatment options. As more and more companies engage with patients on social media and as clinical trial enrollment is becoming increasingly competitive in several disease states, it will be important for companies to utilize social media for trial recruitment and this analysis will show them various methods that have been used in context with this industry’s regulated environment.

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