In this multicenter, cross-sectional, comparative survey study conducted in a developing country, participants of ISRT were more aware than controls of the responsibility and function of the EC in pharmaceutical industry trials, the higher quality of their medical services and the researcher’s physicians, the protection by the EC, safety and overall satisfaction during protocol participation, and the reasons behind economical reimbursement.
More than half of the ISRT conducted in low- and low-middle income countries focus on investigational drugs for chronic diseases . Although several studies have assessed ISRT in developing countries, they focus on assessing patients who are frequently non-responders to standard-of-care medications, and consequently, forced to explore investigational drugs (e.g., cancer, type C hepatitis) [12, 13]. A strength of our study is that our surveyed participants had T2DM, HT, COPD and RA, very common disorders with many accessible therapeutic choices and who decided to be recruited into clinical trials despite all these good available medications for their diseases. Therefore, their responses might better reflect the perception of their participation in pharmaceutical ISRT. A recent study by Wu E. et al. of 1200 participants with hepatitis C from the United States and urban and rural China, assessed the perspectives and concerns of research participants and non-participants about ISRT . They found that while US participants were concerned about safety, privacy, and confidentiality, Chinese had concerns about self-benefit, free medical care, and economical reimbursement . These findings show that sociocultural and economic factors have a huge influence on how people see clinical research. A previous report of the first section of the present survey showed that participation in this type of studies improves their future perception . Other authors have observed this finding [5, 12, 14, 15]. Moreover, Kost et al. in 2014 assessed the experiences of participants in NIH-supported clinical research centers. They distributed almost 19,000 surveys obtained response from 29% finding that 73% top-rated their overall research experience and up to 63% would recommend participating in a clinical trial . Likewise, the 2017 CISCRP’s Perceptions & Insights Study assessed more than 12,000 patients, mostly previous participants of clinical trials (82%) with diverse medical conditions via an online international survey. They reported that 54% would definitely recommend participating in clinical research and that 33% are somewhat willing and 59% are very willing to participate in another study . These studies disclose the shared similarities and notable differences among research participants’ perspectives worldwide.
Ethical oversight has been a concern since the beginning of the globalization in pharmaceutical clinical research and, although ethical compliance has improved over the last decade, areas of opportunities remain to be revised [1, 9, 11, 16]. The majority of our study population had an overall positive perception about EC. Nevertheless, almost one in five cases and controls did not know what an EC was, as well as their functions and responsibilities. Current and potential participants seems to lack awareness of the safety monitoring that is entailed in clinical trials . Similarly, when Wu et al. asked their study population to rank how relevant it was for them to be informed that a study received EC review before the research starter visit, 95% of US patients considered it important or very important, compared to less than 80% in rural and urban Chinese . This finding highlights the sense of safety and validity that EC represent to patients who are aware of their key role for trial conduction.
Mandava et al. reported that the educational level of participants or living in a developed or developing country does not seem to affect their research trial comprehension . Moreover, a key factor associated to better protocol understanding of IC letter is the amount of time designated to explain the study protocol . In our study, most of the time, more than 20–30 min were designated for explanation to each participant; this could possibly explain their high level of satisfaction with the information received, the amount of time researchers dedicated to them as well as the sense of humanity and availability of the researchers. Similar to the outpatient clinic scenario, translating the shared decision-making approach to research trials promotes trust and empowers the choice of the patient for accepting or declining to participate .
In this study, most controls and virtually all cases considered that participating in a clinical trial is an adequate way for patients to get medical care for their condition, mainly because of the closer follow-up they receive. Cox and McDonald conducted in-depth interviews of previous research participants in order to obtain their narratives of being participants of clinical trials and clustered the results into four categories: “surviving”, “being conscripted”, “being a good citizen” and “health consuming” . The narrative of our study population could be categorized as “health consuming”: patients with a chronic illness that has treatment options that could be managed in a more effective way through research, even perceiving trials as part of their standard care  This scenario could be more prevalent in years to come. To date, it is undeniable the considerable amount of patients worldwide who lack access to qualified health services . Participants from this and others studies have stated that research trials enables them to get access to otherwise unreachable medical services . Therefore, even if it is not their goal, ISRT improve the health conditions of some untreated patients through their higher-quality medical care.
Both cases and controls were split when asked whether or not economical reimbursement was a must for them to participate in a research study. Patients often view economical reimbursement as a sign of appreciation for the time spent attending the appointments of their research trial, which did not “blind” them on the risks that implies participating in an ISRT [23, 24]. On the other hand, members of Institutional Review Boards disapprove economical reimbursements because of their potential use as an undue incentive to enroll patients. Interestingly, most of our study population expressed a more balanced opinion, stating that all monetary supportive stimuli have to be strictly justified. As suggested by Wertheimer, economic reimbursements should be individualized and established for each study based on a risk-benefit evaluation, in order to show respect for the autonomy of the participants . Therefore, it could be argued that it is ethically correct and beneficial to pursue the implementation of fair economical reimbursements while designing clinical trials, even in the setting of developing countries.
Regarding participants’ satisfaction, most cases in our study expressed that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall participation (97.9%) and with the results obtained (97.3%). These results strongly contrasts with the opinions of research participants in developed countries. Kost et al., reported 75% of participants top-rated their overall experience ; in the 2015 CISCRP survey, less than half of the participants considered that their clinical research study greatly exceeded (19%) or exceeded their expectations (27%) . Although more studies are needed, it seems that research participants of ISRT conducted in low- and low-middle income countries more positively perceive and are more satisfied with their role as participants and the overall experience of participating in a clinical trial than their peers from developed countries.
This study has several limitations. First, the trail design does not permit to study the influence that participating in a clinical trials have directly on patients’ perceptions and opinions about clinical trials and only associations can be made. Future studies that assess patients’ perception before and after their first participation in a clinical trial could clarify this issue. Second, although the study was validated in a pilot study, there are still chance of misunderstanding, or skipping overall the whole survey. Nevertheless, the majority of surveys were answered with a staff member around in order to clarify questions and ensure the survey were correctly and fully answered. Third, study sample was not calculated, instead we draw a convenience sample. Nevertheless, we considered our population to be large enough in order to reduce the possibility of a sampling error to occur. Fourth, although, the majority of the cases in our study were current participating in their first clinical trials and were blind to treatment, cases that were at their second or further clinical trial were not assessed for previous exposure to placebo or active substance. The influence that had been under placebo vs active substance may have on participants’ perceptions and opinions about research trials is a strong point to be assessed which future studies must approach. Fifth, because cases must have attended at least their sixth visit in order to be included in the study, some questions about process that occur early in the study (e.g. informed consent, enrollment, etc.) could carry a memory bias. Nevertheless, we considered that being at their six visit was an appropriate time to have gained experience in what participating in a clinical trial really means, justifying not asking cases right away after their enrollment in clinical trials.