Cash-strapped graduates and unpaid interns are being targeted for clinical trials by representatives of the UK’s biggest drug company, Graduate Fog can reveal.

We have been approached by a digital agency working on behalf of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which asked us to publish a guest post encouraging hard-up readers to consider the financial benefits of participating in trials for new drugs which have not yet been approved for use by the general public. In the post, young readers facing the prospect of long unpaid internships are told that clinical trials “could be your solution” as they offer “an immediate income to tide you over during the coming months” — which could be up to £8,000 a year.

We understand the vital importance of clinical trials for the development of new drugs, which can be life-changing — or even life-saving — for patients with serious illnesses.

But we are uncomfortable with the idea of presenting participation as a simple solution to the financial problems many of our young readers are facing, as you struggle with high unemployment, zero-hours contracts, low wages and sky-high cost of living. As we’ve seen from your comments below particularly sensitive stories — many of you have experienced moments of feeling very low indeed. Dr Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma, agreed that the approach seemed to be in poor taste, saying:

“This is an appalling story and we should all be grateful to Graduate Fog for exposing it. As a society, we need healthy subjects to participate in early drug trials, for medicine to progress, but that process needs to be managed respectfully.

“The language being used to recruit impoverished graduates into these GSK trials is crass and exploitative. It should disgust anyone ethical involved in medicine or drug development. We can only wonder how many more similar stories have been lost beneath the radar.”

Graduate Fog makes no suggestion that GSK or their agency TouchPoint Digital has done anything illegal. But we do think their approach raises important questions about the way drug companies approach potential participants for clinical trials. In particular, we wonder whether it is appropriate to target vulnerable groups, including the young unemployed and unpaid interns. Would these people consider participating if they weren’t struggling financially?

We didn’t want to publish the article but now that we’re writing about it, it would be really weird not to.

See what you think. Here it is…

Are Clinical Trials a Worthwhile Way of Earning Money v2

And here is the email exchange between TouchPoint Digital and Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald:

From: TouchPoint Digital
To: Graduate Fog
Subject: Guest blog

Hi Tanya,

I came across your site today and enjoyed looking around. As a recent
graduate I found some of your posts very interesting. You offer some
useful career advice.

I would like to write a guest blog for you about ways to earn money
whilst job hunting or interning, such as by volunteering for clinical
trials. I work with GSK on recruiting volunteers for their clinical
trials. This would be an original article for your site and I can
tailor the blog post to your requirements. Below are some links to
other articles we have written.


5 Unusual Ways to Earn Money as a Student

For more information on GSK please visit,

Can you let me know if it will be possible to write a guest blog for
you? I really appreciate your help.

Many Thanks,

We said:

From: Graduate Fog
To: TouchPoint Digital

Send me something over and i will take a look

They replied:

From: TouchPoint Digital
To: Graduate Fog

Hi Tanya,

Thanks for your reply. I will send something over this week. Do you have any requirements in terms of how long you would like it to be?


We answered:

From: Graduate Fog
To: Touch Point Digital

i’m not sure yet if I want to run it so keep it short

is it a case study?

They said:

From: Touch Point Digital
To: Graduate Fog

Hi Tanya,

It won’t be a case study. It would just be an informative article about ways to earn money while job hunting, ie. temporary solutions when struggling financially. In this article I would include some information about clinical trials, perhaps participating in surveys online, being a film extra, selling your skills etc. Alternatively I could write the article more specifically about clinical trials; what is involved, the benefits vs. the drawbacks etc. I think your readers would find either of these articles useful as some might be struggling to find the right job and may need help with their finances temporarily. The following articles I have written so they will give you an idea of my writing style and what the article would be like. It would of course be an original piece to your site though.

5 Unusual Ways to Earn Money as a Student

Earn Money to Help Fund Your Degree with Clinical Trials

Please let me know if you have any requirements or suggestions.

Kind Regards,

We wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog
To: TouchPoint Digital

yes i read those but they were for students – i thought you were going to suggest writing something for grads or those doing unpaid or low paid internships, perhaps including a case study, or writing your own side if you have done this?

i don’t want clinical trials to appear in a list of money saving tips, it’s a bit crass and makes it sound like i’m suggesting it as something they should do, which I’m not even sure about. we’d want something intelligent that answers grads’ questions about whether this is a good thing to do to earn extra money. i’m seeing it generating good discussion, as a balanced piece that doesn’t make a recommendation either way.



They said:

From: TouchPoint Digital
To: Graduate Fog

Hi Tanya,

Those were just examples, but yes I would target it toward grads or interns. I am a recent graduate so I can draw on my personal experiences looking for a job and managing my finances. I also interned for a few months so I can relate to your readers that are in a similar position.

I agree that an informative article about clinical trials; the pros and cons of volunteering, would generate interest and discussion from your readers. I would also ask readers to post their thoughts and personal experiences to boost engagement. I think your readers would also benefit if there is a small link at the end of the article to the GSK website, which is the biggest pharmaceutical company in the UK, so that if they want to find out more or get answers to more specific questions they can do so.


Then they sent us the article. Graduate Fog is extremely uncomfortable about this whole episode. What do you think?


Did GSK’s representative do anything wrong in asking Graduate Fog to publish this article? Would you consider taking part in clinical trials to earn extra money during your unpaid internship, or to pay off your graduate debt? Share your reaction to this story below.

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