Laptop Theft Puts 13,000 Clinical Trial Participants Personal Info at Risk

by jeeg 20. September 2012 01:27

A laptop theft from last week may have placed the personal information of about 13,000 current and previous clinical trial participants from about 50 different studies at risk, says Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Terry Lynam with North Shore-LIJ Health System says that some of the clinical studies were drug trials, with the largest one being for rheumatoid arthritis.


“But there’s also various other studies involving other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, leukemia, and a host of other smaller studies,” Lynam says. “In the next couple of days, we’ll know how many of these 50 studies are pharma related. Regardless, the information contained in that database would not name the pharmaceutical company, the sponsor, and it would not include the name of the study. It would just include the data that was collected.”

The computer was taken from an employee’s car. Even though the computer and health data on the laptop are password protected, personal info could still be leaked. “Although both the computer and the health information contained on the laptop were password protected, we cannot rule out the possibility that such information could be accessed,” Kevin Tracey, M.D., president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute, wrote in a letter to about 13,000 current and past participants in about 50 different research studies, which represent about 2% of the 2,100 clinical trials coordinated by the Manhasset, N.Y.-based research enterprise, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

The Feinstein Institute is offering one year of free credit monitoring for the much smaller number of participants whose social security numbers were included with information contained in the stolen laptop. A toll free number has also been established to respond to questions from research participants: 1-888-591-3911.

“Although we are not aware of any improper use of your information, our priority is to help protect you against potential fraudulent activities,” Dr. Tracey said.

The theft was reported to law enforcement, but recovery is unlikely. Feinstein plans to beef up IT security. “The Feinstein Institute values your commitment to the advancement of discoveries that improve the health of our community and is dedicated to protecting the information provided by our research participants,” Dr. Tracey wrote to research participants. “We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this incident may cause. Your participation in research is critically important to our efforts to understand disease and identify potential cures.” You can see a sample of the letter he wrote to research participants

Pharma companies have had their own data breach problems, but none of them have involved patients. Pfizer in particular had some running problems with data security; back in 2008, 13,000 employees’ information was put at risk when an unencrypted USB drive and an encrypted laptop were stolen from an employee’s car.

Ed Silverman, Pharmalot


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