Older UK people back auto-enrolment in clinical trials

older people

A new survey has found that a majority of people aged 50 or over in the UK who have long-term health conditions would have no problem with being automatically enrolled into clinical trials of new treatments.

The poll – carried out by YouGov on behalf of clinical research specialist Lindus Health – found that almost 70% of people in that age group backed auto-enrolment at the time of diagnosis, as long as they retained opt-out rights.

Support for the concept was also high in a younger age band of 25- to 49-year-olds, with 61% in favour, with 18- to 24-year-olds less convinced, although a majority (52%) still backed the idea.

The respondents reacted to a proposal that patients diagnosed with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders would be put into studies for their respective conditions, with the aim of helping new therapies make it onto the market.

If implemented, auto-enrolment could be an important way to boost participation in clinical trials and increase the likelihood of beneficial treatments being identified, according to Lindus Health.

It could also help reverse a decline in clinical research in the UK, most notable in industry-backed studies, which has raised concerns about the country’s aim to foster a globally competitive life sciences sector.

Figures from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) show there was a 41% decline in new trial initiations between 2017 and 2021, while the number of patients enrolled on commercially-led studies dropped by 44% over the same period.

The falls prompted a report by Lord James O’Shaughnessy, giving recommendations to reverse the trend, including measures to boost trial participation.

The first tentative steps down the auto-enrolment route are already in place in the UK, following the announcement by the government in June of a new scheme called Experimental Medicine Route To Success or 'Experts-ALS'.

Focusing on patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as motor neuron disease (MND) – the initiative will take patients at the point of their diagnosis and offer them the opportunity to take one of three drugs being tested to treat the condition.

It aims to recruit 700 people with MND from 11 centres for the five-year trial, which will initially screen drugs for activity before advancing promising candidates into phase 3.

“The UK drug development industry has made encouraging progress in identifying trial treatments for long-term health conditions, but without increasing participation in trials, new drug development is at risk of being wasted,” remarked Michael Young, chief executive of Lindus Health.

“With this in mind, it’s great to see such overwhelming support amongst the British public for innovative solutions to increase trial participation,” he added.

“It’s important patients have a choice whether to take part in a trial, but with the success of schemes such as the Government’s ‘Expert-ALS’, we will hopefully see the idea of automatic enrolment expand, and in turn help drug development successfully produce new treatments.”