Research company looks for more trial volunteers

Beka Kelsall, of Dunedin, has participated in two ZenTech drug trials. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Beka Kelsall, of Dunedin, has participated in two ZenTech drug trials. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A shortage of volunteers for clinical drug trials in Dunedin means a research company has been turning down contracts.

ZenTech trials and regulatory affairs section head Louise Broome, of Dunedin, said the business started in Dunedin to provide clinical trial and analytical laboratory services for the pharmaceutical industry in 1987.

‘‘We’ve had no major problems — every year we get a new bunch of students signing up and a lot of them become regulars,’’ she said.

The company completed up to 30 trials a year, Ms Broome said.

The number of studies was restricted by the number of volunteers willing to participate.

‘‘If we had more people signing up we could do more studies.’’

Up to 30 people participated in each trial and most participants were aged between 20 and 25.

However, the company recruited volunteers aged between 18 and 55.

‘‘There are quite a few locals doing studies but the bulk of our database is made up of students.’’

Participants were required to stay in a 60-bed clinical facility in ASB House in Cumberland St from Friday night to Sunday morning and return for follow-up testing.

University of Otago retail outlet assistant Beka Kelsall (26), of Dunedin, participated in two ZenTech trials.

In her first, nearly four years ago, she was paid about $500 to take a contraceptive pill.

In the second trial, about three years ago, she was paid about $1000 to take ibuprofen.

When asked why she participated, her response was immediate: ‘‘The money.’’

She was working part-time when she worked on the trials.

After passing a health test, she received emails from ZenTech telling her when a trial was about to start and which drug would be studied.

If she did not recognise the drug she would decline the offer.

If she accepted, she would arrive at the facility on Friday night, to fast with the other participants. The pill­taking — which could be a placebo — and blood sampling began the next day.

Participants were woken in the middle of the night for blood samples, she said.

The food inthe facility was ‘‘really decent’’, she said.

Most people in the facility were students, who passed time studying or playing games.

She took a laptop to the facility to binge-watch TV shows.

‘‘It’s boring but you’re getting paid for it.’’

Asked if she would accept another trial, she said: ‘‘My partner wouldn’t want me to but if I could, I would.’’


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