Not enough Americans enroll in clinical trials, unknowingly stagnating the very medical advances they hope to see. To increase enrollment, the United States must increase awareness.

Not enough takers

Clinical trials are a critical part of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process for new therapies. Yet the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development reported that 37 percent of clinical trial sites fall short of their enrollment goals, while 11 percent fail to enroll even a single patient.

"Today, nearly 47 percent of Americans are registered organ donors."

Enrollment struggles in part because patients lack awareness. One study found that 40 percent of adults did not fully understand the idea of a clinical trial. Current or former trial participants may offer little help in this regard; roughly 88 percent of them rarely talk about their experiences after the trial.

Repeating history

For policymakers, this challenge has a familiar ring. The United States faced another high-impact public health quandary several decades ago with organ donation. At the time, scientific advancement offered life-saving opportunities for patients needing organ transplants, but donors failed to materialize in sufficient numbers.

Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Ad Council sprang into action with a multi-prong public awareness campaign to open Americans’ eyes to the need for donors. An array of public-private partnerships formed to support the initiative. “Share your life. Share your decision.” became a familiar call to action. Today, nearly 47 percent of Americans are registered organ donors.

The watermarks of the clinical trials challenge are much the same. The issue impacts Americans across ethnic, gender and socio-economic lines. All suffer when medical innovation is hampered; all benefit when it thrives and new therapies are discovered that improve and prolong life.

The cause of clinical trials would likewise benefit from a federal public awareness campaign. To spur medical innovation and facilitate discovery, patients must enroll in clinical trials. But first they must understand what purpose trials serve, how they work and what benefits they bring to a society where too many patients suffer with too few options.