April 19, 2013

Drug trials help Maine economy, new report says

The clinical trials support jobs, generate taxes and save lives, says the study done by an industry group.

By GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press

AUGUSTA – More than 550 clinical trials of new medicines in Maine since 1999 have supported thousands of jobs and brought millions of dollars in taxes while saving lives, says a report released Friday.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage, left, presents an "Open for Business" business card to PhRMA CEO John Castellani at a news conference Friday at the State House in Augusta. A new report says the more than 550 clinical trials of new medicines in Maine since 1999 support thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in federal and state taxes.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Tom Sotir, of Augusta, talks about taking part in a clinical trial at a news conference Friday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

More than half of those trials targeted six of the most debilitating chronic diseases -- asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and stroke -- and led to safer and more effective treatments, according to the report presented by Gov. Paul LePage, the drug industry and business leaders.

The report from the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America says the research even helped save the life of a relative of the governor who participated in one of the clinical trials for a rare disease.

"My mother-in-law, for one, is still with us," said LePage, who did not provide details about the disease. "If it wasn't for that trial, we would have lost her a long, long time ago."

The industry group has presented reports in more than a dozen other states, but the work done in Maine stands out in a few ways, said Chief Executive Officer John Castellani.

For one, some of the diseases are more likely to strike people who are older, and U.S. census figures show Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, with a relatively high percentage of residents 65 and older.

In addition, Maine has increased its efforts to attract drug research and its ties with research facilities in Massachusetts. "That science can migrate across the border," Castellani said.

Titled "Research in Your Backyard," the report says clinical trials on drugs to treat the six major diseases are done at facilities in Auburn, Bangor, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland and Rockport.

The clinical trials often are run in conjunction with hospitals such as Maine Medical Center in Portland and Scarborough and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine, which has several locations in Maine.

Tests for effectiveness and safety of the drugs are conducted with volunteer patients as the drugs follow a multi-year course toward federal approval.

"Last year, the American Cancer Society estimated there would be 9,200 new cancer cases in Maine in 2012," Castellani said. "Our companies and their local collaborators, including Mercy Hospital in Portland and Maine Medical Center in Scarborough, are right now conducting 22 trials of new cancer medicines, and they are also recruiting patients."

The report cites a study showing that in 2008, the biopharmaceutical research industry supported 12,000 jobs in Maine, generating nearly $120 million for employees, $25 million in federal taxes and $4.1 million in state taxes.

Research firms invested more than $54 million during that year in research and development and supported $2.4 billion in products and services.

"It's a hidden part of our economy for people who aren't involved in it," said Chris Hall, chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber.

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