Massachusetts considers bill aimed at improving patient reimbursement for clinical trial expenses

"More people should have access to participating in cancer clinical trials," said Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Ross. (Getty/Ridofranz)

Too many clinical trials struggle to reach full enrollment, enroll a diverse enough population and ultimately retain enough subjects.

A big part of the problem? Many patients can't afford the costs associated with participating, said Jonathan Jackson, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. And drug companies have been hesitant to help pick up those costs, afraid of falling afoul of federal laws barring them from paying trial subjects. 

"Many individuals who come to clinical trials here in Boston don't necessarily live in Boston," said Jackson, who has been part of a three-year pilot project studying ways to improve clinical trial enrollment. "They have to pay for flights and hotels, they to pay for childcare, they have to deal with lost wages in many cases because they are still working. Those that do live in Boston also don't necessarily have the time to take."

The Food and Drug Administration provided guidance earlier this year saying those reimbursements should be allowed, but lawmakers in Massachusetts are seeking to take it a step further.

A bill is moving through committee in the state that would put into law the allowable reimbursable expenses, a necessary move because many drug companies still operate under the understanding that payments to trial subjects could get them in trouble.

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"This isn't charity. This is the best way to do good clean science," Jackson said. "Sometimes good clean science needs to take into consideration the context of the people's lives who we're affecting through our research."

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