Clinical trials impact economy

By Pat Shaver

CORALVILLE–Clinical trials can save lives and boost the economy, according to a recently released report.

Local healthcare officials and pharmaceutical professionals met last week to discuss a new report, “Research in your Backyard: Developing Cures, Creating Jobs,” that looks at the impacts of clinical trials on the economy and quality of life for residents.

The panel discussion at the University of Iowa BioVentures Center in Coralville included Dr. Doug Bartels, senior research scientist for Vertex Pharmaceuticals; Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) who authored the report; Lorna Johns, a patient volunteer who has participated in clinical research; and Dr. Raymond Hohl, University of Iowa professor of medicine and associate director of clinical and translational research for the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Sept. 17 event was hosted by Innovate Iowa and the Iowa Biotech Association.

The state of Iowa has started 1,103 clinical trials since 1999, Mr. Trewhitt said. Of those 595 have been conducted or are still underway at research institutions in Iowa City.

Of that, 351 targeted the six most debilitating chronic diseases. Of those 351, there are 70 that are still recruiting patients.

“That’s a lot for a state this size,” he said. “It’s helped to create thousands of jobs.”

“It is very important that these clinical trials are under way,” he added.

Since 1999, 68 clinical trials have been done or are ongoing at institutions in Cedar
Rapids. Eight are still recruiting patients. The report shows that clinical trials have benefited the state’s economy because biopharmaceutical companies generally hire local research institutions to conduct tests. The trials account for 45-75 percent of the $1.2 billion cost of developing one new drug, the tests are a source of revenue and gives Iowa medical schools,
science centers, hospitals and clinical research facilities the opportunity to be involved in biopharmaceutical research.

“The bottom line, the fact of the matter, is we don’t do a good job of curing disease,” Mr. Holh said, adding that’s why clinical trials are so important.

The release of the report and panel discussion were aimed at raising awareness of clinical trials and their importance. More than 70 percent of all clinical tests nationwide have difficulty attracting recruits, causing drug development delays of one to six months.

The report also noted that more than half of the tests in Iowa targeted the six most debilitating chronic diseases: asthma, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and mental illness.

Ms. Johns, who has participated in clinical trials, has survived three different types of unrelated cancers. She decided to participate after other drugs weren’t working.

“You have to be your own advocate with some of these things,” she said.

“I was 68 when I was diagnosed with the first cancer,” she said. “Today, I’m 85. I feel blessed.”

Mr. Hohl noted that it’s important to raise awareness about clinical trials and tell stories like Ms. Johns’.

“I don’t like the word experimental,” Ms. Johns said. “I don’t want anybody to call me a guinea pig.”