How to make money from drug trials
Who knew owning a body could be so lucrative? Taking part in drug trails can raise that dwindling student bank balance, but know the facts before you sign up!
It's not uncommon for students to volunteer their bodies for clinical trials in exchange for money. In fact, with payments averaging £100 per day (with the potential to earn thousands depending on how long the trail is), it's unsurprising that drug trials are pretty popular these days!
In fact, according to our National Student Money Survey, 2% of students make money from clinical trials, with this figure rising to 7% when students are faced with a cash crisis.
As you might expect, there are mixed reviews and concerns about participating in drug trials to make money, so we're here to tell you everything you need to know – including what it's like to take part – before deciding whether or not to go ahead with it.
We've also scoped out some of the most-trusted companies to work with, so you can be sure you're in safe (and legitimate!) hands.
What's on this page?
Should you sign up for a clinical trial?
Thanks to medical research, there's always a constant supply of new drugs appearing on the market.
As well as being great for those in need of new medications, this also means there's always a high demand for people to test these drugs out for hard cash!
Pharmaceutical companies need to ensure their product is safe for the mass market, so paying willing humans is the only way to do this. And whilst this can sound a bit scary, it's worth knowing that these drugs will have been through various other tests before making it to human-trial stage, so they're relatively risk-free.
But while there are jobs aplenty, the cash incentives high, and the effort involved pretty minimal - you should always weigh up the facts first.
Are you up to the job?
It's also worth knowing that most clinical trials will have specific requirements you need to meet in order to take part.
Whilst age isn't normally a factor (usually between 18–75 is fine), you will normally need to be in pretty good health, a non-smoker and not drink too much either. We realise the latter may rule a lot of us out already!
On the flip side, other trials might ask for people with specific requirements and ailments, such as asthma sufferers, women on the contraceptive pill, or diabetics – it all depends on the type of trial you're partaking in.
Just make sure you know what you're signing up for, and whatever you do – don't tell porkies!
What you need to know before doing a drug trial
Clinical trials come in different shapes and sizes
Drug studies move through different phases, and the phase a trial is in depends on how much research has been done on the drug already.
A phase one trial, also known as a 'first man in', means you'll be the first to ever take the drug (sadly, however, it will have been thoroughly tested on animals first).
Phase two trials are the next stage and you'll be the second round of people to take the drug. Phase three is, well you guessed it...
Obviously, the further from the first you are, the less risky it's likely to be (and so the more appealing the study may be to you!).
You don't always get paid more for risky work
A really important thing to note is that you won't necessarily be paid more to test drugs that involve more risk.
Payment is generally worked out by the length of time spent on the trial – how many days you showed up, how much time you spend taking part, and the length of the trial – as opposed to the kind of test or drugs involved.
You might also be offered an allowance to cover your travel to and from test centres – it's the least they can do, really!
Clinical trials can last several weeks
Depending on the trial, you might only be asked to stay overnight – but it's not unusual for tests to demand a two-week (or more) stay on site.
Therefore, it's worth considering that this could disrupt your studies and social life. Is it worth the cash?
Think of it this way – you're paying (through the nose) for your lectures, so skipping these to make cash would be a false economy!
Plus, how are you gonna get that first class degree if you're skipping class to take drugs?
You'll be given an examination before taking part
Once you sign up for a drug trial, you'll be given a full medical examination (no revision necessary!) to make sure you're suitable for the trial. If the company decides to use you as a volunteer, you'll be given the green light to be a tester.
You should be prepared for a 'no' though – not everyone passes this stage!
You might not even have to take the drug
This might sound weird, but not everyone involved in a clinical trial will actually end up taking the drug.
Whilst some people will be given the drug, some might be given something similar but with a slight difference, and others will get a placebo (a fake drug). Whichever you end up with, you'll still be getting paid the same!
There might be needles involved
If you're not a fan of needles then this could be a biggie for you! Chances are, you'll have to undergo some tests before taking part – including giving blood.
If you can handle this bit, it shouldn't get much worse than that. In fact, lots of volunteers report getting paid to sit around and play the PlayStation, or catch up on uni work.
There will always be risk involved
Lounging about and getting paid for it does sound mighty appealing, but don't forget there will always be an element of risk involved in drug trials.
Some drugs will have common side effects such as nausea, fainting and headaches, which could wipe you out for a few days - but others could be more serious.
In 2017, two students who took part in an experiment at Northumbria University were accidentally given a dose of caffeine equivalent to 300 cups of coffee in one go. They were left fighting for their lives in hospital and the university was fined £400,000 for the error.
While this is obviously terrifying, it's worth remembering these things happen extremely rarely.
... and clinical trials are regulated
It's also worth noting that trials aren't just devised willy nilly. All clinical tests must correspond to the regulations set up by the MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and be approved by an ethics committee.
While clinical trials can be risky, those who are prepared to take the risk are invaluable to developing new drugs.
The NHS and other medical institutions urge volunteers not to be put off drug trials, as they are essential to the developing new drugs – so you might as well don a cape and call yourself a superhero for the day!
You should register for aftercare
While there are some expected side effects that you don't really have to worry too much about (such as nausea and headaches), there are some side effects that can't be predicted, so it's important you go for checkups afterwards.
Make sure you're contracted to receive the adequate amount of care for this, and let your own doctor know that you're taking part in the trial so they can monitor any adverse side effects.
You're free to leave at any time
Drug trial volunteers are able to stop the trial at any time, so if you feel like it's all getting a bit too much or you don't like the way things are going, you always have the option to bow out.
However, don't let this lure you into signing up if you're not 100% sure you're up to the challenge!
There are lots of companies to choose from
You should always research a range of companies before signing up to any trials, as you want to make sure you sign up to a someone credible.
Don't be swayed by the biggest pay-out. A company researching for a 'better' product than their competitors may be biased with their results, and this could impact on your care.
What's it like to take part in a drug trial?
There's no denying that there's a lot of fear-mongering and myths around drug trials. So to help separate the fact from the fiction, we spoke to Sarah, an Engineering student at Imperial College London, who took part in an HIV vaccine trial during her time at uni.
Sarah had been looking at drug trials with some the more popular companies, but eventually settled on a study she found through an ad on Facebook. By chance it was being run by the research wing of her very own uni, so she applied.
But before being accepted, the researchers had to check if Sarah fit the profile they were looking for.
I had to be tested to ensure I was HIV negative, and I couldn't be part of an 'at-risk' group. I also had to be on hormonal contraception, have no long-term illnesses and couldn't have antibodies to spread strains of the flu virus which were used in the trial.
Anyone living with an adult or child who was vulnerable (health-wise) was ineligible to take part too.
Sarah ticked all the boxes, but even then the researchers were keen to stress that no drug trial is 100% safe.
Are clinical trials safe?
The very nature of these studies is such that the drugs have only been tested on humans a handful of times, if at all. So while the preceding research, often including animal studies, gives them a very good indication of how humans will react, there are no guarantees.
They actually explained how they hoped the vaccine would work, which was really interesting.
They gave me a list of potential side effects but explained that not all of the drugs had been tested enough to know what side effects they could cause. The trial I took part in would help determine this for the future.
Sarah wasn't put off by this, and thus she became one of the subjects for the study. As it happens, Sarah didn't experience any side effects at all – but again, it's important to note that this won't always be the case. Click here to find out more about the possible dangers of clinical trials and how safe they really are.
Taking part in a drug trial
Unlike some drug trials, like Flucamp, Sarah wasn't required to live in lab conditions for a prolonged period of time. Instead, she was able to go about her life as normal.
The trial took place over seven months, but I didn't have to live in a purpose-built lab – it was made up of 11 short visits (at most three hours) over the seven month period.
The sessions involved taking blood, taking nasal swabs and so on, as well as having all my vital signs checked. I also had to do a pregnancy test.
So, while you may hear stories of drug trial companies paying you to sit in a room for two weeks playing FIFA and watching Netflix, that's certainly not the only way a trial can go down. Of course, if you're not one for lazing around for days on end, this may come as a bit of welcome news!
How much can you make from drug trials?
If we're talking about it in purely financial terms, clinical trials are certainly appealing.
At the end of Sarah's clinical trial she was paid a lump sum of £1,350 plus travel expenses. Even if each of the 11 visits took three hours (and remember, Sarah said that this was the absolute maximum time that one would last for), it would still work out at over £40/hour – that's the equivalent of over £50,000/year!
Interestingly, however, Sarah didn't take part for the money – rather the fact that she was fascinated by the science behind it all.
I was genuinely interested and thought it would be pretty cool if the drug (an HIV vaccine) ended up being used. Also, selling your body to science isn't a bad story to tell at parties!
Although the money was a nice bonus, the trial wasn't something I did because I needed money.
For obvious reasons they don't like you to do too many trials, and of course there is always the risk of getting ill.
I'd absolutely recommend it – but as a nice bit of spare cash, as opposed to making money for living.
Trusted clinical trial companies to consider
If you've weighed up all the facts and are still keen to go ahead with taking part in a drug trial, there are a number of options you can try.
FluCamp has over 25 years’ experience of running clinical studies and their main aim is to find treatments for the common cold and flu.
If you're selected you can expect to make up to £100 a day and trials tend to last 11-14 days. Just be aware that you will be quarantined during this time.
If you live near a teaching hospital then this is the perfect place to make an initial enquiry. Alternatively, you could even look into trials at your university.
You might also come across postgrads and researchers looking for people to help with carrying out low-risk research in exchange for various rewards.
One of the big names in clinical trials, Covance will hold around 30 trials a year, offering a selection of phase one and phase two tests.
You can expect to be paid between £500 to £3,000 for your time, depending on the type of trial.
Trials 4 Us
Trials 4 Us is the largest clinical trial organisation in the UK, testing drugs for various conditions and illnesses.
They promise accommodation with unlimited gaming and internet access, as well as rates of up to £120 a day. You can earn a further £90-£350 on top of this for referring friends to also take part.
Trials 4 Us also offers money for blood donation (provided you fit the right blood category) and some trials involve paid psychological studies as opposed to drug-taking.
Our cash injection inspiration doesn't end there. Check out our guide to making money quickly for dozens more ideas!