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Is the genie out of the bottle? Digital platforms and the future of clinical trials

Tempini, N; Teira, D

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY
2019
VL / 48 - BP / 77 - EP / 106
abstract
Is it possible to conduct impartial clinical trials in a world full of digital networking tools that patients can use to coordinate themselves and act against research protocols? This paper builds on an ethnography of PatientsLikeMe, a company running an internet social media network where patients with different conditions share their clinical data with standardized questionnaires. The company faced a serious dilemma in 2011 when some ALS patients, members of the site, started sharing data about a phase II clinical trial of an experimental drug (NP001) in which some of them were participating, to anticipate the experiment's outcomes and understand each one's allocation over trial arms. In parallel, some other patients were using the site and other web tools to coordinate and run their own replication of the trial with homebrew mixes of industrial grade chemicals. PatientsLikeMe researchers reflected on their position as networks managers and eventually decided to use the collected data to develop their own analysis of the efficacy of the original compound, and of the homebrewers' compound. They presented the NP001 events as a case in point for articulating a new social contract for clinical research. This paper analyses these events, first, by understanding the clinical trial as an experiment organization form that can succeed only as long as its protocol can be enforced; second, we observe how web networks make it dramatically easier for the trial protocol to be violated; finally, we point out how a potentially dangerous confluence of interests over web networks could incubate developments that disrupt the status quo without creating a robust and safe alternative for experimentation. We conclude by warning about the interests of the pharmaceutical industry in exploiting patients' methodological requests to its own advantage.

AccesS level

Green Published, Other Gold

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PROYECTO FINANCIADO POR PLAN NACIONAL DE INVESTIGACIÓN AGENCIA ESTATAL DE INVESTIGACIÓN, MINISTERIO DE CIENCIA E INNOVACIÓN. PID2019-109127RB-I00