From The Editor | February 5, 2024

A Tribe Called SOS


By Dan Schell, Chief Editor, Clinical Leader

Wigs panel at SOS

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. According to the Uber driver who took me from my hotel to the Save Our Sites (SOS) conference in Tucson last Friday, Big Pharma companies “own” all of the judges … everywhere. Oh, and we should all stop taking prescription drugs and focus only on supplements.

With a smile on my face, I exited the car and chuckled a little to myself as I walked into the conference. By the end of the day, I was still smiling and even occasionally laughing, but for different reasons.

I found SOS to be a conference that lived up to its hype. It was unconventional, unique, and creative. I mean, come on, one panel was a mock legal trial/debate with all the participants wearing those white wigs like lawyers wear in the UK. Heck, the first panel of the day was a game show where they split the 400+ audience into two teams that, with the help of the panelists on stage, competed against each other for the favor of the volunteer judges. But you would be as foolish as Brad Hightower looked wearing one of those white wigs on stage if you viewed these attempts at levity as degrading the professionalism or seriousness of this event.

Make no mistake, this was a unified crowd rallying around the message of the eponymous conference. Clinical trial site owners and the ClinOps staff at sites who run trials are worried, concerned, and — in some cases — simply pissed off at the status quo of how (especially independent) sites are reimbursed and sometimes treated in the sponsor-CRO-site relationship. But it’s not just about reimbursement; this crowd recognizes the efficiencies that could be gained for the patients and the industry as a whole if we could just move the needle a tiny bit away from the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.

Speak Up!

While there were many people on the SOS team who helped plan and execute on the likely dozens of tasks needed to pull of this first-time event, its origins can be traced to the posts, videos, podcasts, and live events on LinkedIn from the triumvirate of Hightower, Dan Sfera, and Dr. Daniel Fox. Each of these guys played prominent roles in some of the panels and were readily accessible throughout the day, often asking for feedback on the content and the event itself.

In fact, “feedback” was almost like an ongoing underlying message to the crowd throughout the show. The MCs and the panelists frequently would look to the attendees for their voice on a particular topic. A good example happened as everyone got settled in to hear the first panel. The MCs asked if anyone could list three words that describe what they hoped to get out of the event. Far from a group of wallflowers, hands shot up throughout the room. Of the numerous answers given, I thought the final one — which was nearly shouted out — best captured the hope and optimism of the throng: Industry … Change … Now!

Worth it?

So, did the conference provide tangible and actionable suggestions on how sites can get paid quicker, negotiate better budgets, and simply run their businesses more efficiently while still giving the best care possible to their patients? Sure, I think there were examples of all of those things. Some of the highlights, for me, included hearing from a former FDA inspector how to prepare for (and act during) an FDA inspection, how to better negotiate site budgets, and some tips on hiring site staff that will fit your culture, and hopefully, stick around awhile (thanks Nicholas Focil and Judy Galindo!). But I’m also sure, especially since I spoke to a few attendees about it, that there was some content that was light on takeaways and heavy on defining and confirming some of the problems that much of the audience already knew. Still, I think you would be wrong to generalize this conference as some sort of one-and-done glorified bitch session. It’s the tip of an iceberg. It’s the first wave. And it will be back next year, and I’m guessing it will be bigger … and better. I just hope those wigs are a part of it.