R.V. Doon

New Job Category: Guinea Pig

Well, I’ve lived to see the day when human volunteers for clinical drug research studies have managed to turn it into a bona-fide job. They also call themselves professionals. Go Pigs!


Peru 2005



No joke! I’m talking real job. A real job as in quitting your low paying one and moving to cities where more phase 1 clinical research studies are frequently done. A job where your family thinks you’re traveling for work. A job where you join a group of like-minded guinea pigs and text only ‘members of your group’ details about the new gigs available.

Don’t get me wrong. The healthy subjects in the Atlantic Article: The Life of a Clinical-Trial Guinea Pig are the only subjects that get paid. That’s right. The rest volunteer for altruistic reasons-generally stated as >I don’t want my grandkids to face this disease>I want to help people>I’d like to see a healthier world for all. Some of the phase 2 and phase 3 volunteers are in studies for years with no pay, but all sincerely hope they are on the real drug and not a placebo. So, I’m all for seeing the phase 1 pigs paid for their work.


My very first clinical research trial (as the research nurse) had twelve medical students show up, all carrying a total of 100 pounds of medical books each, to study during their incarceration. (I mean, their week-long holiday adventure). I can still remember calling the PI and asking how all twelve students happened to be in his classes. He told me to go ask them if they had felt “pressure.” The volunteers laughed in my face. I learned later they were all lagging behind their fellow medical students, and volunteering was hinted at for extra points. I know, it was supposed to be against the rules, but hello, the real world is murky. ‘Drug world,’ the nickname I privately gave to the research milieu, because it rarely acknowledged the real world’s existence, will call foul over the truth in this article, even though they supposedly live in the real world at least part-time.

New job: Guinea pig @rvdoon.com



Below, are a few of the truth nuggets in the article:  Well worth the read!


Stone said, he began sneaking into the bathroom after each dose and forcing himself to throw up the pill, to stave off the side effects. The staff didn’t catch on, he told me, and he didn’t share his trick with any of the other participants. “I figured I could get away with it if I kept my mouth shut.”

There are a few things most serious guinea pigs eventually learn. The first is: There’s such a thing as being too honest. 

For studies looking for healthy subjects, the screening process generally comes in two steps. The first is over the phone, when guinea pigs call to express their interest. “A lot of places will ask if you’ve ever smoked a cigarette even once,” Stone said. “And if you say yes, boom, that’s the end of it. Sometimes you have to skirt around it.” 

“It sounds selfish,” Helms said of the deception, “but the way it works is, I’m working poor, and the people making the drugs are filthy rich, and I need a job.”

Professionals may lie their way into a study, he says, but they also make it run more smoothly. “They need people who are reliable. Pro guinea pigs, we come where we’re supposed to be on time, we’re not afraid of needles. When you explain something it’s going to be understood because you know what’s going on,” he said. “It’s not going to be a disaster. The way disasters happen is when a guy comes in and he doesn’t know the ropes.”

Guinea Pigs Beware: While the article doesn’t mention deaths in phase 1 clinical drug trials, they have happened. Phase 1 studies are also the least regulated. Companies aren’t legally required to register a trial with Clinicaltrials.gov, the database maintained by the NIH, until it reaches Phase 2.

For interested readers my next medical thriller will feature a former drug discovery scientist. Coming soon!


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