Paul B. Miller, BA, MA, MPhil, is a JD/PhD candidate in law and philosophy at the University of Toronto, and a Junior Fellow of Massey College in Toronto, Toronto, ON.
Trudo Lemmens, Lic Iur, LLM, is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
A pharmaceutical company invites Dr. B, a primary care physician, to assist with a placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial (RCT) of a new cholinesterase inhibitor for the treatment of dementia. The study will include patients who have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Dr B will receive $3,500 for each patient who ultimately agrees to enrol in the study. In the protocol, this fee is explained as payment of the administrative costs associated with Dr B's participation in the trial (in particular, as payment of "costs of obtaining informed consent, accumulating data, secretarial support, and consultation with each subject").
This hypothetical case illustrates an increasingly common phenomenon--offers of "finder's fees" and other "administrative" fees by pharmaceutical companies or Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to primary care physicians for conducting research involving their patients. Finder's fees are offers of money to physicians in reward for referral of patients eligible for research participation. They can be distinguished from payments made to cover costs of research participation.