Budget Travelers Guide to Making Money Fast - Drug Trials

With insomnia hues instead of eye shadow and skin covered in bed bug welts from an infested 60 year old couch - I just had to find somewhere else to sleep, dammit! Living in prestigious Covent Garden, in the midst of London's alluring theatre district was glorious. Crashing for six weeks on a crumbling settee, showering in cold water and being afraid of tinsy blood suckers was not. It seems whether bartering over sandals in India, or being extorted for a coke in Venice, there comes a date in every travellers diary when the cash trickles dry and you're on the plane home. Luckily in London there is plenty a quick quid to be made if you don't mind selling your soul… or better yet - selling your body.

Approximately 350 medical trials are authorised in Britain alone every year. Clinical research companies and university bioscience labs are constantly advertising for healthy, non smoking or asthmatic volunteers to take part in the testing and development of new pharmaceutical drugs. These trials can take several hours in a laboratory or one to three weeks of incarceration, paying from GBP50 to GBP3550. Posted on the internet, in magazines and spread by word of mouth – requests to volunteer are often taken up by those of us from the colonies craving a new Friday night budget (plus paying back that blinking credit card we used in Amsterdam) and other foreigners who wish they'd got a visa extension or at least bought a return ticket! So what goes on in these sterile white washed environs? And exactly how safe are they?

This week clinical research giant Parexel is dominating the news as 6 people have become ferociously ill, 4 of them still critical, after a dose of TGN1412. Eight weeks ago my beloved was incarcerated in Parexel's wards for ten days testing a treatment for depression. Eight months earlier I was in a different laboratory testing an injection that speed up the heart. My beloved and I are fine, thank the universe, but those fighting for their lives in Northwick Park Hospital are clearly not. Does the 15 or so page information hand out provided by these companies really give the patient enough details to assess their own safety? Do the military-like clinic staff have enough understanding of the drug doses or testing process? And in our desperation to raise funds for adventures Down Under would my partner and I have signed up for TGN1412?

When we ran out of money after our shotgun wedding (hastened by immigration, not pregnancy!) getting a place on a medical trial seemed like a plan. Men are particularly sought after participants as there is no concern over foetal liability and Oli was flooded with offers. We decided a malaria vaccination sounded dangerous and sputum (phlegm) sampling too low a profit. The name of the antidepressant was classified information we were not privy to, but we assumed it must be similar to others and reasonably safe. Besides GBP1,600 in ten days is not to be knocked! Months earlier, when I enlisted to sample a drug designed to increase the heart beat, I only barely browsed through the clinic's notes. Besides, being an asthma sufferer, at least everything I was subjected to had already been tested on a “healthy” human patient. But I think the strongest factor in the decision process would have to be the blind faith most of us hold in the medical profession.

In the TGN1412 experiment the dosing of all 6 participants at the same time has been questioned. Experts have also queried whether multi organ inflammation would have occurred in patients actually suffering from an immunological disease or cancer, which the drug was designed to treat. Clearly this is a case of human error. The six were the first humans ever to try the drug which (like all pharmaceuticals) had previously been tested on animals. The men were given a dosage 500 times lower than that given to primates, who only suffered from swollen glands. It seems to me it's about time the medical profession admits the inability of testing on animals to predict the safety of drugs in human beings. It further seems that it could have been myself or any of my friends on that trial… what can I do but avoid signing consent to anything that relates to cancer?

It's an NZ$35 taxi ride if I want to get back to my cosy couch after a night out in the dank and mysterious southern city of Dunedin. In my friend's moist and mouldy living room I paw hopelessly through my wallet to discover I've also spent NZ$40.68 on drinks. I feel a strange queasy swoon come upon me. Is this seriously going to interfere with my budget for tandem skydiving? Karl (owner of aforementioned blanketed lounge suite) says he's heard of a medical trial in town. NZ$250 for two mornings embalming oneself with eczema cream. It's not a lot of money but ok, I guess, if Oli signs up too. I suppose it sounds relatively safe?

Here I go again.

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