Concern about the ethics of clinical drug trials research on patients and healthy volunteers has been the subject of significant ethical analysis and policy development--protocols are reviewed by Research Ethics Committees and subjects are protected by informed consent procedures. More recently attention has begun to be focused on DNA banking for clinical and pharmacogenetics research. It is, however, surprising how little attention has been paid to the commercial nature of such research, or the unique issues that present when subjects are asked to consent to the storage of biological samples. Our contention is that in the context of pharmacogenetic add-on studies to clinical drug trials, the doctrine of informed consent fails to cover the broader range of social and ethical issues. Applying a sociological perspective, we foreground issues of patient/subject participation or 'work', the ambiguity of research subject altruism, and the divided loyalties facing many physicians conducting clinical research. By demonstrating the complexity of patient and physician involvement in clinical drug trials, we argue for more comprehensive ethical review and oversight that moves beyond reliance on informed consent to incorporate understandings of the social, political and cultural elements that underpin the diversity of ethical issues arising in the research context.