Trial Scout

San Diego, CA

Nearly 50% of Clinical Trials in San Diego are Conducted by UC San Diego Health

Written by Jack Beecher, TrialScout Data Analyst

“The TrialScout database has allowed us to see that UC San Diego Health is lynchpin of San Diego’s clinical trial landscape,” said Dr. Irfan Khan, CEO of Circuit Clinical. “We hope that insights such as this increase awareness of this health system, as well as notable others, across the greater San Diego area in the realm of clinical research as a care option.”

Ranked as the 28th-largest Designated Market Area (DMA) by Nielsen in 2017, San Diego has conducted an estimated 9,776 clinical trials over the past fifteen years. This is an impressive total considering its DMA rank, as similar amounts of clinical trials have been conducted in more highly-ranked cities, including Tampa (with an estimated 9,597 trials and ranked 11th by Nielsen), Phoenix (approximately 9,738 trials while being ranked 12th), and Raleigh (10,699 trials, and ranked 24th)1,2. Notably, Phoenix boasts a population roughly 150% that of San Diego’s (which has an estimated 3,140,069), while Tampa compares very similarly to San Diego in population3. Further, San Diego has conducted significantly more trials than similarly-ranked cities, including Nashville (4,516 trials, ranked 29th) and Indianapolis (7,351 trials, ranked 27th)1,2,3.

Distribution of Clinical Trials per Zip Code1

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Aside from the aforementioned, other cities with comparable trial volumes to San Diego’s include Pittsburgh (approximately 8,832 trials) and Portland (9,172 trials). On the other hand, there are also several cities with greater trial volumes than San Diego’s despite smaller populations, including Raleigh, Columbus (approximately 11,053 trials), and St. Louis (12,651)1,3.

The main reason San Diego stands where it does in the realm of clinical trials is clear: UC San Diego Health. This academic health system astonishingly accounted for about 43.9% of all clinical trials in the San Diego area in 2018, almost six times as much as the next most active health system, Rady Children’s Hospital (7.7%). Following these two health systems are Kaiser Permanente (7.2%), Sharp HealthCare (5.8%), and Scripps Health (5.5%); together, they comprise the only five systems to conduct at least 100 clinical trials in 20181.

Clinical Trials in San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos MSA (2018)1

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10 Years of the Top 5 Clinical Trial Hospitals in San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos MSA (2018)1

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UC San Diego Health boasted three of the four most active clinical trial locations in the area in 2018: its Jacobs Medical Center (with an estimated 383 active trials), Moores Cancer Center (280 active trials) and Hillcrest Medical Center (154 active trials). Along with Rady Children’s Hospital, these four locations were the only ones to conduct more than 100 active studies last year. This speaks to some level of depth within the top health systems, as these four locations are parts of only two of the aforementioned five health systems. Other notable clinical trial locations in San Diego last year include Sharp Memorial Hospital, the VA San Diego Healthcare System, the Naval Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Zion Medical Center, and Scripps Green Hospital. Of these, the UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center and Moores Cancer Center have demonstrated the most growth; the former has gone from 137 active trials in 2008 to 383 in 2018, while the latter has gone from 128 to 280 over the same span. Also of note in this regard is Rady Children’s Hospital, going from 92 in 2008 to 160 in 2018. Interestingly, a unique trend is seen for UC San Diego Health’s Hillcrest Medical Center; it increased from 163 trials in 2008 to 203 in 2012, then decreased to 154 in 2018 from there1.

Alternative Clinical Centers in San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos MSA (2018)1

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In regards to sites in San Diego that are independent specialty practices or research-dedicated, several have also grown significantly over the past decade. The most active of these sites in 2018 was the Artemis Institute for Clinical Research in San Diego, with 48, growing from three in 2008. Artemis’s other location in San Marcos has also grown from a single trial in 2015 to 21 last year. Beyond the Artemis Institute, other notable sites of this type include TriWest Research Associates in El Cajon (from two active trials in 2012 to 34 last year), Pacific Research Network (from five in 2010 to 33 last year), Medical Associates Research Group (five in 2008 to 31 last year), California Cancer Care Associates for Research and Excellence in Encinitas (three in 2008 to 23 in 2018), and Precision Research Institute in San Diego (a single trial in 2010 to 20 last year)1.

More recent analyses of the TrialScout database provide a more up-to-date snapshot of the clinical trials landscape in San Diego. According to these analyses, there are currently an estimated 2,057 active trials in the San Diego area, barely any difference from the 2018 estimate of 2,0611,2. Of these 2,057 trials, approximately 1,424 (69.2%) are recruiting for pariticpation2. UC San Diego Health has slightly decreased in trial volume from last year; it had 906 active trials in 2018, but currently has 786 (532, or 67.7%, of which are recruiting). 344 (43.8%) of UC San Diego’s current active trials are accounted for by the Jacobs Medical Center, but it decreased by about 39 from last year1,2. Two hundred and twenty (64%) of these trials at the Jacobs Medical Center are recruiting, and these also account for about 41.4% of UC San Diego Health’s recruiting trials2. The Moores Cancer Center has decreased from 280 active trials last year to 247 right now, which comprises about 31.4% of UC San Diego Health’s active trials1,2. One hundred and seventy-three (70%) of Moores’ currently active trials are recruiting, and this subset accounts for roughly 33% of UC San Diego Health’s recruiting trials2. Outside of UC San Diego Health, Rady Children’s Hospital has decreased from 160 active trials in 2018 to 143 now, 121 (85%) of which are recruiting1,2.

Considering its DMA rank, San Diego is performing well in the clinical trial industry, largely on the back of UC San Diego Health. Although the clinical trials conducted in San Diego are predominantly concentrated among five health systems, there is a decent amount of depth within them; it is not the case where most of the trials are reserved to one location in these systems. This depth, along with a much more robust academic health system, is what separates San Diego from cities with similar trial volumes, namely Phoenix and Tampa1. Still, however, there are cities throughout the country performing comparatively better than San Diego.


  1. Approximate attributable data as per the TrialScout database collapse as of 4/11/2019. All data is derived from https://clinicaltrials.gov/
  2. Approximate attributable data as per the TrialScout database collapse as of 6/6/2019. All data is derived from https://clinicaltrials.gov/
  3. Lyons Public Relations Broadcast PR Solutions. (2017). 2017 Nielsen DMA rankings – Full list. Retrieved from https://www.lyonspr.com/latest-nielsen-dma-rankings/
  4. S Census Bureau. (2018) New Census Bureau population estimates show Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington has the largest growth in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/popest-metro-county.html
  5. S. Census Bureau, Population Division. (2019). Annual estimates of the resident population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2018 – United States – Combined statistical area; and for Puerto Rico. Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk

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