From Guinea Pigs to Heroes

Clinical Researcher—December 2021 (Volume 35, Issue 9)


Erika Stevens, MA, FACRP, 2021 Chair of the Association Board of Trustees for ACRP


Is the perception of clinical research different today than it has been historically?

In just under 20 years, the public’s view of clinical trials has evolved from something akin to a taboo subject to something much closer to sentiments we can all be proud of—though full recognition of how everyday citizens are key to medical breakthroughs has yet to be achieved.

In 2002, the cover of an issue of Time magazine showed a make-believe scenario of a woman inside a cage, with the title “Medical Testing” and claims of researchers turning millions into guinea pigs.{1} The article asserted that people who participate in clinical trials do so out of desperation, questioned the safety of medical experiments, and warned against the risks of clinical research.{2}

That was then, this is now. The cover of the December 13, 2021 issue of Time features the scientists responsible for mRNA (developed into the vaccine to thwart COVID-19) as “2021 Heroes.”{3} However, where is the recognition of the thousands of volunteer research participants? Where is the recognition of the clinical research workforce involved in the conduct of managing clinical trials in the middle of a global pandemic?

More than 40,000 people in the U.S. participated in clinical trials in 2015.{4} Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. participants represented 35% of overall global clinical trial participation.{5} A sharp increase in clinical research participation is demonstrated with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer reported more than 43,000 participants{6} and Moderna reported 30,000 participants{7} in their respective Phase III clinical trials. The increase in public awareness of clinical research and the outcomes resulting from trials are tantamount to a sea change for the enterprise.

Internet searches for the word “vaccine” were up more than 600% from 2019 to 2020 and more than 1,000% from 2019 to 2021.{8} As a result, Webster’s named “vaccine” the word of the year for 2021.{9} Even still, the recognition of the workforce supporting the development of recent vaccines is absent.

ACRP’s educational efforts with lawmakers—to advance clinical trials nationally—remain a top initiative for your Association. Along with our advocates, ACRP continues to promote excellence in clinical research education and to garner long overdue professional recognition for those doing the vital work in sponsor, site, academic, nonprofit, and vendor settings.

On behalf of ACRP, thank you for efforts in advancing vaccines and improving health outcomes. It was my privilege to help lead this organization and to serve as Chair of the Association Board of Trustees in 2021.

I wish you all the best jusqu’a ce qu’on se revoie (until we meet again),