At an earlier point in her life, Mary Illig helped conduct lung research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, including testing a potential new asthma drug now known as Singulair on samples of tissue. So, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer years later, she went ahead when her doctors asked whether she wanted to participate in a clinical trial. She received two estrogen-blocking drugs before undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation. She’s now cancer-free and still being followed through the trial.
“I can’t say enough about the experience and how important it is,” said Illig, now chief technical officer at Paynetworx in Omaha. Illig spoke at a press conference at UNMC on Tuesday focused on the impact clinical trials have on the state, including giving patients treatment options and bolstering the economy.
Clinical research sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry produced an estimated economic impact in the state of $394 million in 2017, according to a new report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA.
Since 2004, nearly 3,000 clinical trials have been conducted in Nebraska, said Zachary Poss, senior manager for state advocacy with the industry group. Today, there are 326 industry-sponsored trials open at hospitals, clinics and other sites across the state serving more than 8,000 Nebraskans. They focus on drug treatments for conditions including cancer, arthritis and infectious diseases. The trials are needed to prove the safety and effectiveness of new medicines under development and to compile the evidence needed to seek federal approval for them.
The Role of Academic Medical Centers
Academic medical centers are one of the main partners in such research, Poss said. UNMC is home to nearly 70 industry-sponsored trials. CHI Health has 88 industry-sponsored trials at its metropolitan area facilities, CHI Health officials said. “Without these partners, getting lifesaving medicines to patients would be extremely difficult,” he said.
Dr. Chris Kratochvil, associate vice chancellor for clinical research at UNMC, also stressed the importance of partnerships in drug development. In addition to industry funding, the medical center receives dollars for clinical research from federal, state and philanthropic sources.
Last year, UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, its clinical partner, conducted a total of $138 million in research. That included nearly $70 million specifically in clinical research funding, an increase of 15% from the year before, said Kratochvil, also vice president for research at Nebraska Medicine.
The health system has about 400 active clinical trials supported by all funding sources and had more than 2,000 patients enrolled in clinical trials last year.
Poss said the industry group is releasing similar reports across the country. “We really just want to make sure people know about the clinical trials that are available to them,” he said.
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