Twitter for #ClinicalTrials recruitment? Researchers see the potential

By Melissa Fassbender contact

- Last updated on GMT

Twitter supports more than 35 languages and has 1bn unique visits monthly to sites with embedded Tweets.
Twitter supports more than 35 languages and has 1bn unique visits monthly to sites with embedded Tweets.

Related tags: Clinical trials, Twitter

With 320m monthly active users, Twitter could potentially serve as a new, unexploited resource to stimulate interest and enrollment in clinical trials.

According to new research published in JAMA Oncology, physicians at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania suggest, while clinical trials are tweeted about – the content doesn’t specifically address recruitment.

As Outsourcing-pharma has previously reported​, patient recruitment is a huge challenge for the industry, as very few patients actually participate in studies that could offer new, promising treatment options.

"This is an unsolved societal problem​," said Mina S. Sedrak, MD, MS, a fellow in the division of Hematology/Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and ACC, and the study’s lead author.

"Twitter provides a promising and novel avenue for exploring how cancer patients conceptualize and communicate about their health, and may have the potential to promote much-needed clinical trial recruitment​."

While many organizations currently use Twitter for educational purposes, few have taken advantage of Twitter’s potential to serve as a patient recruitment tool.


The study analyzed 1,516 randomly chosen Tweets from a total of 15,346 total unique tweets that contained the phrase "lung cancer.”

Of the tweets analyzed, the majority (56%) focused on prevention, or giving and receiving psychological support; however, almost 18% were about clinical trials, 42% of which were tweeted by individuals.

"We were surprised to see that after dialogues concerning support and prevention, the next largest category of tweets were about clinical trials​," said Sedrak.

Specifically, the majority of the clinical trial tweets mentioned human research involving a drug or a device.

Although the conversations about clinical trials are happening on Twitter, according to the research, “virtually none of these tweets were used for recruitment nor did they provide links to enrollment websites.​” Out of all the tweets, only one linked to a patient recruitment website.

Tapping into Twitter

The authors admit that further work needs to be done to see if Twitter is a viable tool for educating patients. Additionally, social media patient recruitment programs would pose new challenges to institutional review boards (IRBs), and as such, IRBs will need to review and create social media recruitment campaign policies.

"We need to learn more about the ecology of social media, because it is clearly not consistently directing patients to the right places​," Sedrak said.

"Social media may provide an infrastructure for cancer centers, researchers, and physicians to interact with the public in new and productive ways, including stimulating interest in new clinical trials with targeted messages that connect patients, caregivers, and families with trial enrollment websites. This potential remains largely untapped​."

Without having an opportunity to review the research, Andrew Powaleny, a PhRMA spokesperson, told us that the organization supports its member companies’ ability to "appropriately communicate on the importance of participation in clinical trials using social media."

He added, "Improving the timely access to innovative new medicines is a priority for the biopharmaceutical industry and clinical trials are an essential part of the drug discovery process to bring new treatments to patients."

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