A new report shows clinical research trials for pharmaceutical drugs have infused billions of dollars into South Carolina’s economy since 1999, but leaders agree that the state could do a better job of getting minorities in rural counties to participate.
By the numbers
18,000: Number of jobs the biopharmaceutical research industry supports in the state.
152: Number of clinical trials ongoing in Charleston in July.
$1.2 billion: Average cost to develop a new drug.
10 to 15: Average number of years it takes a new drug to travel from the lab to market.
3,200: Approximate number of clinical trials conducted in South Carolina since 1999. About half have targeted the six of the most common chronic diseases — asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illnesses and stroke.
Source: The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
“Everyone knows there’s a bank on every corner. We want to put a clinical trial on every corner as well,” said Dr. Andrew Kraft, director of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America published a report Tuesday explaining how 3,200 clinical trials for new drugs have been conducted at South Carolina research centers, medical schools and hospitals since 1999, generating $2.4 billion in “economic output” in the state.
Kraft, speaking at a press conference about the report at MUSC on Tuesday, said 26 percent of patients who are currently participating in clinical trials for cancer drugs at MUSC are African-American.
“That is a phenomenal outcome compared to other academic medical centers or clinical trial sites around the country,” said Dr. Marvella Ford, associate director of cancer disparities at the Hollings Cancer Center.
There are still significant barriers to entry for minorities, though, including access to affordable transportation, Kraft said.
“That’s a major, major issue,” he said. “The cancer center is trying to lead the way.”
Some volunteers in the trials are either compensated for their travels and/or paid for their participation, in addition to being treated with cutting-edge drugs.
A federal grant has helped MUSC expand its clinical trial network to 17 sites in 11 counties in South Carolina, many located in rural South Carolina along the Interstate 95 corridor.
A deep-rooted fear among blacks about medical research can be traced to a decades-old study conducted in Tuskegee, Ala., between 1932 and 1972. Medical researchers studied the effects of syphilis on hundreds of black men for 40 years, without educating the men about their diagnosis or treating them for it.
Ford said patient navigators in South Carolina are trained to talk to minority participants about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. They also teach them how federal laws about medical research and patient consent have changed since then, she said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who confirmed Tuesday that he will seek a 12th term in Congress next year, praised MUSC’s efforts to “get people of color to really get beyond and over some of this reluctance to participate in clinical trials.”
At the press conference, Clyburn cheered the tangible and intangible impact this kind of research has had in South Carolina.
“These trials provide hope for patients with chronic or critical illnesses,” Clyburn said. “I was kind of surprised to learn that over 1,400 trials have been conducted in the last 13 years here in Charleston and Mount Pleasant. That’s more than 100 trials a year here in this community.”
More clinical trials are conducted in Charleston County than any other area of the state, and most of those trials test new cancer drugs, according to the report.
In July, 93 clinical trials for new cancer drugs were ongoing in Charleston. There were 78 cancer-drug clinical trials ongoing in Greenville last month, the second highest number in the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.