Published on February 28, 2013 | by Harriet Sokmensuer


Cash 4 drugs

Clinical Trials_F_LC_02

Strict regulations are in place during any human testing trial [Photo by Lucy Copley]

Get-rich quick schemes are not new. From pyramid to ten-step, these alluring schemes have grabbed the attention of money-seekers for centuries. For those looking for “easy” money fast, paid clinical testing may seem like a good option.

With university fees up and employment rates down it seems today that more and more students are turning to medical trials to make a quick quid.

In 2011, The Guardian included clinical testing in their ‘11 money-making tips for 2011’ at number ten.

Student-based websites and forums also suggest making money from clinical testing.

“When you’re down to your last bit of spare change, you’ve gone on one too many nights out and that kebab at 2am seemed like a good idea … you’ve got little left to rely on but your health,” writes, who recommend testing because research centres offer participants anything from £50 to £2,500.

“When you’re down to your last bit of spare change, you’ve gone on one too many nights out and that kebab at 2am seemed like a good idea … you’ve got little left to rely on but your health.”

The idea of testing medicine is not new. Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna laid down the rules and wrote a precise guide in 1025.

In his work The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna wrote, “The experimentation must be done with the human body, for testing on a lion or a horse might not prove anything about its effects on man.”

It was not until 1747 that the first large-scale clinical trial took place. At the time it was known that scurvy was a result of lack of Vitamin C, so remedies such as fruit, cider and vinegar were tested.

James Lind has been called the father of clinical trials since he was the first to introduce control groups – not giving all of the test subjects medicine to help show the effects of the trial.

Strict regulations

In 1945, strict regulations of experimentation on human subjects were put in place to acknowledge the importance of the ethical impact of testing.

Whatever your outlook on medical testing, people have been taking part for centuries, and today – thanks to medical testing’s popularity and pharmaceutical drug business’s growth in recent history – companies make it easier than ever to get paid to be tested on.

Hammersmith Medicines Research (HMR) reported that roughly a quarter of volunteers are students. Finding a UAL student with trial experience did not take long.

There were a lot of students who had registered with more than one clinic, all saying that they had a friend who knew someone who made a “crazy amount of money”.

London College of Communication photojournalism student, James Gourley, 21, participated in one and made more than £2,000.

His trial consisted of three ten-day periods that were separated by one-month ‘wash out’ periods. A ‘wash out’ is when a subject receives no medication between treatments allowing the original effects to wear off. It is also known as ‘stabilising’.

“If you have a heavy timetable, it’s much easier than a real job.” James Gourley

Gourley took part in a research study at a private centre in west London. He has only participated in one test and made £2,100. This “silly money” for a short period of time is why researchers such as HMR have seen an increase in student volunteers of five per cent.

“If you have a heavy timetable, it’s much easier than a real job,” Gourley said. “Short of becoming a prostitute or drug dealer, its probably one of the best-paying!”

Gourley’s trial was for a specific asthma medicine, and included two phases.

The first was human testing, where the drug is tested on a group of subjects to measure its side effects.


James Gourley was paid over £2,000 for his participation [Photo by Lucy Copley]

The second is only for target ‘patients’ who have the illness the drug is meant to cure.

Gourley was chosen because he had the required condition.

Most clinical trials can be classified as either an observational study or an interventional study. An observational study observes the side effects of a drug by testing relatively high doses on healthy patients.

An interventional study tests specific patients who have certain illnesses to see if the drug will have the desired effect.

Interventional testing generally pays more because patients need to have a specific medical condition, for example for testing asthma or ADHD medication.

Some websites state that one week of work will get you a few thousand pounds, however some trials are more complicated.

ALN spoke to HMR’s manager of recruitment and screening, Mavi Walther, who told us about clinical testing as it stands today.

“For something such as a blood donation you can make as little as £50 while most trials very rarely pay more than £2,300. And while a simple blood donation only takes a day or two of participation, other trials – such as vaccine-type studies – can take 9 to 12 months.

“In general, the longer the trial and the longer the residences in the ward, the higher the payment.” Mavi Walther

“We pay volunteers for their time and inconvenience,” Walther said. “In general, the longer the trial and the longer the residences in the ward, the higher the payment.

“We may pay a little more for trials involving blood sampling throughout the night, which may disrupt sleep.”

HMR, uses randomised controlled trials, where each subject is randomly allocated to a treated group or control group before they receive real medicine or a placebo. From there subjects follow the same procedures and study.

This type of trial shows whether the medicine is tolerated and how long it takes to absorb and eliminate it from the body.

“At first I was a little apprehensive,” Gourley says of the clinical trial he was in, as he was familiar with the horror stories of testing gone wrong.

In 2006, six volunteers suffered multiple organ failure during a clinical trial at a London medical research centre. There were originally eight subjects. Six were injected with the drug TGN1412, a type of immune stimulant that had never been tested in humans before.The other two were given a placebo.


By the time the last of the six men – who were promised £2,000 – were given the drug, the first subject had symptoms of chills, pains, and nausea. From there things only got worse.

Soon after the injection the subjects’ throats began to swell. Some started to faint and one or two vomited. They were all rushed Northwick Park Hospital, where two subjects were put into intensive care due to organ failure.

Experts say the trial was extremely dangerous because the drug’s purpose was to override the body’s immune regulatory mechanisms: “making it the first time anyone had toyed with what some called a ‘Pandora’s box’,” wrote The New York Times.

Doctors continued to give the drug to the subjects while other volunteers in the room next door were experiencing symptoms serious enough to stop the trial.

Before it was given to humans, the drug had been tested on monkeys which had showed no negative symptoms at all. When it was tested on humans, six men were hospitalised and two were predicted to die – but survived.

“It was dubbed the “Elephant Man” case because of one subject’s description of another’s swollen face and body was similar to that of the Elephant Man.”

The story blew up in the British media. The Sun, The Guardian and the BBC covered the story. The subjects remained anonymous and after a few weeks in hospital were able to return home.

It was dubbed the “Elephant Man” case because of one subject’s description of another’s swollen face and body was similar to that of the Elephant Man. Since then there has not been as dramatic a mishap.

Gourley – like so many other students looking for a way to make some extra money – took the offer to take part in a test even with his friends joking that his “head might explode” or that he would “grow a third arm”.

Volunteers have gone through far worse than blood samples at four in the morning and reversed sleep-patterns.

Some have to pop pills laced with radioactive carbon, down chemically enhanced athletic performance enhancement shakes, or excrete into a box.

“Most of our volunteers are very satisfied with the experience,” Walther says.

Research centres

HMR describes itself as one of London’s leading research centres and is very serious about the safety of their volunteers.

“We go through an extensive telephone checklist … later [the subjects] attend a screening visit and a medical check-up to ensure they’re healthy and that they meet those criteria.”

Registering online is easy. Each clinic has its own online form and questionnaire that takes about five minutes to fill in. Some studies look for smokers who are 45 and older, others for students ages 18-24. For example, HMR uses only “healthy” volunteers.

If you think of professional guinea pigs as drifters and hobos – think again. Today, volunteers have union-like organisations that demand more pay for certain experiments.

They are not just in it for a quick pay off, they are in it for the long run, making nearly £60,000, according to

Websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree now include advertisements for medical volunteers, making it easier for people to apply.

However, it is important to always remember that professional websites are far more trustworthy and confidential.

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