Considering the True Costs of Clinical Trials

Kathy D. Miller, MD


August 08, 2023

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi, everyone. It's Dr Kathy Miller from Indiana University. In a few short weeks, we'll gather again in Chicago at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting. Undoubtedly, we will think about health equity and how we make certain that our advances are available to all the patients in need, both as they become standard of care and during clinical trials. We'll also think about the cost of clinical trials, and it's time for us to bring those together.

We need to think about the ways that participating in clinical trials results in increased out-of-pocket costs to our patients and how that limits the ability of marginalized groups to participate. That should be a problem for us.

There are many subtle and some egregious ways that participating in clinical trials can result in increased costs. We may ask patients to come to the clinic more frequently. That may mean costs for transportation, wear and tear on your car, and gas prices. It may also mean that if you work in a job where you don't have time off, and if you're not at work, you don't get paid. That's a major hit to your take home pay.

We also need to take a close and more honest look at our study budgets and what we consider standard of care. Now, this becomes a slippery slope because there are clear recommendations that we would all agree, but there are also differences of practice and differences of opinion.

How often should patients with advanced disease, who clinically are doing well, have scans to evaluate their disease status and look for subtle evidence of progression? Are laboratory studies part of the follow-up in patients in the adjuvant setting? Did you really need a urinalysis in somebody who's going to be starting chemotherapy? Do you need an EKG if you're going to be giving them a drug that doesn't have potential cardiac toxicity, for which QTc prolongation is not a problem?

Those are often included in our clinical trials. In some cases, they might be paid for by the trial. In other cases, they're billed to the insurance provider, which means they'll contribute to deductibles and copays will apply. It is very likely that they will cost your patient something out of pocket.

Now, this becomes important because many of our consent forms would specifically say that things that are only done for the study are paid for by the study. How we define standard of care becomes vitally important. These issues have not been linked in this way frequently. It is time for us to tackle this problem and think about how we financially support the additional costs of care that can be real barriers for patients to participate in clinical trials.

Clinical trials are how we make progress. The more patients who are able to participate in clinical trials, the better it is for all of us and all our future patients. I hope to see you all at ASCO. I really look forward to your thoughts on this important topic.

Kathy D. Miller, MD, is associate director of clinical research and co-director of the breast cancer program at the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center at Indiana University. Her career has combined both laboratory and clinical research in breast cancer.

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