The Medical Center of Americas Foundation has partnered with clinical research as care option provider Elligo Health Research to help contribute to a longer-term vision and mission to transform the Paso del Norte region in a bid attract clinical trials to the region. On a mission to create a world-class life sciences hub in the heart of El Paso, Texas, the city now pursues status as a regional hub for the clinical research as a care movement. The region has a way to go with only about 220 clinical trials (122 sponsored by industry), based on a review of government data this compares to 1,709 (1,408 industry) in San Antonio and 564 (325 industry) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A Gateway to the Future

El Paso is an important place that isn’t well understood or, for that matter, appreciated. Not discussed much in coastal power centers such as New York, Washington or Los Angeles and generally precluded in talk among political parties (right or left)–the city is a physical gateway to the Hispanic world which represents from a demographic and population perspective, a major part of the American future. 

The El Paso-Las Cruces combined statistical area includes about 1.1 million people while another 1.5  to 2 million live right across the river in Ciudad Juarez representing a bi-national regional total of over 3 million according to the County. El Paso’s population is overwhelmingly Hispanic—making up about 83% of the city’s population

At nearly 62 million and growing, Hispanics make up the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. and projections find the Anglo/Euro population as a minority. That is only part of the story as the Hispanic population is disproportionately young meaning they will heavily influence markets with growing numbers of consumers, including those requiring medicines and therapies.

El Paso, part of the rapidly growing Texas economic juggernaut (e.g. no corporate taxes and favorite destination for headquarters), continues to grow as many corporations from elsewhere relocate in Texas, and, increasingly, industry finds its way to places such as El Paso in the form of biomedical, clean technologies, government sector and electronics to name some prominent examples. This author, a die-hard Californian, acknowledges on Texas visits that the future could be there.

With generally lower land and labor costs, yet an increasingly educated and trained workforce, business will continue to make its way south. Then there is the global presence—the gateway to Mexico (and beyond) and this country of 126 million as of 2020. This hub, with an international airport, major trade hub and one of only eight international communication gateways positions El Paso with lots of upside. And that has started to wield economic cloud via the El Paso-Juarez-Southern New Mexico metroplex—known for a hub of sophisticated manufacturing operations, a skilled workforce and a commercial transport infrastructure.

Walls and nationalistic fervor aside, Mexico and the United States via NAFTA are highly integrated and will become more so. El Paso is home to seven major universities, including medical and nursing schools and biomedical engineering programs. It represents true potential to grow and prosper and has put its chips down on clinical trials!

The Medical Center of Americas Foundation Efforts

The Medical Center of Americas Foundation (MCAF) is on a mission to develop and grow a hub of innovation for the “Paso del Norte” region’s healthcare and biomedical sectors. The organization has developed a 440-acre Medical Center of the America’s campus right in central El Paso. The organization exists to facilitate the grow of the entire “life sciences ecosystem” from education and training of the workforce to commercializing biomedical research innovations. Recently, MCAF inked a deal with clinical-research-as-a-care-option vendor Elligo Health Research

Introduce the Clinical Research as a Care Option

MCAF, led by President Emma Schwartz, assessed and categorized the opportunities and strengths as well as the challenges faced by the region. MCAF understands the growing precision medicine boom and the requirement for diversification in clinical research patient participation.

The lack of engagement among physicians and patients in clinical research is well known (e.g. not enough doctors become investigators and not enough patients consider participating in relevant trials)—this detachment is especially pronounced in underrepresented populations including Hispanics. 

Study after study, emphasizing the social determinants of health, reveal that minority and underrepresented groups die from cancer at higher rates. The El Paso regions’ population includes large segments considered “underrepresented” with issues of health payer access, adequate treatment and large incidents of disease, such as type 2 diabetes—in the case of the Hispanic population doubles the rates of whites. 20% of the city’s population lives under the poverty line. An estimated 26% of El Paso’s population under 65 is categorized as underinsured meaning this vulnerable population lacks health care insurance. 

Build the Momentum with Elligo

El Paso’s MCAF, driven and with a bigger vision in mind, also understood some of the challenges faced by more competitive regions and markets. After all, although San Antonio city is much bigger than El Paso, the region’s 2.5 million is double El Paso’s (less the Mexico side)—the Alamo has nearly 8 times the number of clinical trials. Even Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a regional population of about 1 million (less than El Paso) has more than double the clinical trials. El Paso has work to do. But Ms. Schwartz and the MCAF appear to have strong local human agency.

That the mission to catalyze and drive research down to this lesser known southern hub would require creative, out-of-the-box thinking and action. Part of this endeavor includes the involvement of Elligo Health Goes Direct.®  Profiled previously by TrialSite News, the vendor profile the El Paso story on its website here. The vendor’s premise is simple and powerful: that 97% of the patient and physician community do not participate in clinical research and that they have taken on the mission of changing this state of affairs. Hence, by leveraging their suite of services, they will, in theory, accelerate the number of clinical trials conducted on the region. 

At a high level, the service augments and supports physician practices that seek to participate in clinical research but heretofore the service had no way of engaging with biopharmaceutical sponsors or contract research organizations (CROs). This combined technology and service model first can match clinical trials to a particular medical practice (e.g. a local physician network for example). Should there be a potential fit, they determine the physician practice’s interest. If there is an interest, they then designate this practice a “research ready study site.” From there the Elligo team employs technology known as the IntElligo Research Stack® as well as associated service know-how to identify potential patients that could be a fit for a particular clinical trial. The Elligo offering then includes patient enrollment services (not bogging down the actual physician or their often-overstretched staff) and finally offer reporting services, updating sponsors on the real-time status of the particular site.

Conclusion

By combining forces with Elligo as a partner to catalyze clinical trial growth in the region, MCAF seeks to not only accelerate clinical research in the El Paso area but also attract more physicians to the region that are interested in research as a part of building vibrant, dynamic practice while attracting clinical research sponsors and CROs that understand the importance of diversified patient participation—in the case of El Paso—namely a Hispanic population.  The future of precision medicine necessitates diversified participation. Moreover, the local population, many classified under the “Underrepresented category” could benefit from a clinical research as a care option paradigm.

El Paso has a lot of work to do but this city and region’s inhabitants aren’t afraid of hard work, and they are surely committed and dedicated to making the region a clinical research hub. They will undoubtedly benefit from their specialization, considering therapeutic areas that disproportionately impact the region as a focal point to build clinical investigational competencies.

Call to Action: Interested in leaning more about the efforts in El Paso, Texas, to build a regional clinical research hub?  Consider contacting Ms. Emma Schwartz here.

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