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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Study: Florida popular testing ground for clinical drug trials

In the pursuit of medical cures, it turns out Floridians are among the most tested-upon people in America, according to a report by the pharmaceutical industry.

Some people might be leery of that distinction. After all, do we want to be the nation’s guinea pigs? However, economic development leaders say our reputation as a hotbed of clinical trials is a plus for local patients — who get access to cutting-edge treatments — and the economy.

In fact, attracting more clinical trials is a goal of both the Tampa Bay Partnership, a local nonprofit charged with building the economy, and the state’s own corporate recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida.

The partnership tested the premise with the folks at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa and an industry group called BioFlorida.

“And the feedback we got was, ‘Yes, this is a burgeoning field here in Tampa Bay,’” Tampa Bay Partnership chief executive Stuart Rogel said.

This week, assorted scientists in biotechnology, financiers and economic development officials are meeting in downtown Tampa for BioFlorida’s annual conference. It was at this meeting that another trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, distributed its report on drug trials in Florida on Monday.

PhRMA has compiled such studies on the clinical trial business in 23 of America’s 50 states.

Its study found that hospitals, research institutions and contract clinical trial companies have performed 7,845 such trials in Florida since 1999. The study’s author chose 1999 only because that amount of time provided enough data to draw some conclusions, PhRMA spokesman Jeff Trewhitt said.

Not surprisingly, cancer trials far outpaced trials for other conditions, with 1,953 performed since then.

Florida was second only to Texas, which has had 8,254 clinical trials since 1999. The Sunshine State was just ahead of New York, which has had 6,282.

To be sure, population is a major factor in the number of trials being performed, because drug companies like having big population bases to tap into. In fact, several big states dominate the list of most trials.

However, state and local economic development leaders believe Florida is uniquely suited to clinical trials, and they hope to capitalize on that.

Christopher Paradies, a local intellectual property lawyer, worked on the Tampa Bay Partnership’s strategy to build the region’s life sciences industry. He spotlighted the region’s potential for clinical trials because drug companies want demographics that match the nation’s overall.

Here in the Bay area, we generally match the nation’s demographics, although we might skew a bit older, Paradies said.

Many elderly people also have more health issues, which makes the area attractive, he said.

Statewide, Enterprise Florida markets the state as a destination for clinical trials, because of the research dollars it brings into the state. The hope is that drug companies will establish a foothold here and expand their operations, an Enterprise Florida spokesman said.

At Moffitt, researchers enroll 1,400 patients a year in clinical intervention trials, which involve a new drug, said Dan Sullivan, who oversees clinical research at the cancer center. Nationwide, only about 3 percent of cancer patients go through such trials, but at Moffitt the number is closer to 15 percent, he said.

“Yes, in Florida and the Tampa-Clearwater-St. Pete area, there is a great number of patients,” Sullivan said.

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