"You need time off in a chic environment and want to be pampered for a change?"With sentences like these, many job portals on the Internet advertise for drug tests. The offers are often aimed at students or the self-employed: "We're healthy, young and need the cash," one of the pages reads.
Volunteers are in demand in Germany, reports dpa. Only in the U.S. are more clinical trials conducted by pharmaceutical companies than in this country. According to the German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), Germany is well ahead of the UK with 499 and France with 390, with participation in 532 trials started last year.
The range of the tests reaches thereby from ambulatory studies for 50 euro up to hospital stays of several weeks, for which test persons receive already times up to 6000 euro. The tests are a huge market. According to their own figures, pharmaceutical companies in Germany invest around 5.8 billion euros per year in laboratory research and clinical trials.
Lucrative offers beckon especially in so-called Phase I studies. The drugs are tested on healthy volunteers to check for possible side effects. However, the risks involved should not be underestimated. "Phase I tests are becoming increasingly dangerous," says Karl Lauterbach, SPD health expert. Increasingly, he said, drugs are being tested that act on the immune mechanism, which could lead to more serious side effects than other drugs.
This danger is also seen by Wolfgang Becker-Bruser from the specialist magazine "Arznei-Telegramm". "The development of immunotherapies against cancer has seen a considerable upswing in recent years," he explains. "The more complex and the more innovative an active principle is, the less calculable is the actual risk for the test persons."When asked, the drug manufacturers also confirm an "increased risk potential" from such drugs.
Such a drug already had dramatic effects in 2006: After a Phase I test in Great Britain, several test persons' lives were in danger at that time. The drug was a drug designed to interfere with the immune system. Even more dramatic was a study in France last year. There, a volunteer subject died from the unforeseen side effects of a complex test drug.
The U.S. company Parexel, which conducted the study in Britain at the time, also has a research site in Berlin. When asked, the institute would not comment on his work in Germany. American regulations are invoked: "We are an American company and have strict, in part also legal (American) requirements," a response states.
So far, there have been no incidents in Germany as serious as those in France or Great Britain. More than 100,000 healthy volunteers have taken part in clinical tests in this country over the past eleven years, according to authorities, always within the framework of high safety standards, as those responsible emphasize.
Before a study can be conducted in Germany, it must be approved by either the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) or the Paul Ehrlich Institute. In addition, an ethics committee must sign off on each project. "The development of a new drug is a highly regulated process with regard to subject and patient safety," ares a BfArM spokesperson.
Exact data on who is participating in these tests does not exist. For most Phase I studies, however, you should be in good health and have enough time on your hands, i.e. be young and not work a 40-hour week. Students or self-employed people fit the pattern perfectly.
Relatives or potential patients are also repeatedly involved, says Annette Dufner of the Institute for Science and Ethics at the University of Bonn. For many, however, the financial incentive remains the decisive factor.