Sunday, May 23, 1999

Wanted: Drug testers

Cincinnati popular site for pharmaceutical studies

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Many of the nation's top drug companies have identified Cincinnati as a hotbed of human guinea pigs.

        Page through The Cincinnati Enquirer on any given Sunday, and you're likely to find numerous ads seeking volunteers to participate in drug trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

        But the companies for which the drugs are being tested usually are not the ones mentioned in the ads.

        Drug companies are increasingly turning to contract research organizations and independent testing facilities to conduct clinical trials, which has meant a sharp boost in business for local medical research firms.

        Last year, more than $3.5 billion in drug development was “out-sourced,” according to industry analysts, and such out-sourcing has been growing at a rate of about 30 percent annually for the past few years.

        “There has definitely been an increase in the number of studies being conducted here,” Bob Conway, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Cincinnati-based Hill Top Research Inc., said. “Our business has grown because of it.”

        Hill Top conducts clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry and consumer-products research for companies in the United States and Canada.

        The company operates 22 testing centers across the country, including one in Cincinnati at 7720 Montgomery Road in Kenwood.

        About 30 pharmaceutical studies a year are conducted at the Cincinnati center — an increase of about 25 percent over the last three or four years, Mr. Conway said.

        Each study averages about 20 to 30 patients, he said.

        Typically, the drug companies that sponsor the studies pay Hill Top a certain amount for each patient who completes a study, Mr. Conway said.

        For example, a drug company might pay $2,500 a person for a study with 25 people, generating more than $62,000 for Hill Top, he said.

        The catch is that while the trend toward more clinical studies has been good for business, it has made it increasingly difficult to recruit patients for drug trials because so many people are already participating in them.

        And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees drug testing, prohibits research firms from using the same patients simultaneously in more than one drug trial.

        The situation has led to a noticeable increase in the number of ads being placed for volunteers.

        Recruitment ads for drug-trial patients, which once appeared almost exclusively in newspapers and medical journals, can now be found on the radio, in magazines, bulletins, on the Internet and through direct mailings.

        Phoenix International Life Sciences in College Hill, which bills itself as the fifth-largest drug-testing company in the world, is a prime example.

        Phoenix — the American branch of a Canadian contract research organization — is familiar to many Tristate radio listeners through its recruitment ads, offering to pay volunteers who complete drug tests.

        Even companies with a lower profile in the contract-research game have benefited from the surge in drug trials sponsored by companies racing one another to be the first to market with the next blockbuster medication for everything from acne to herpes.

        Kendle International Inc., for example, doesn't operate a testing facility or conduct drug trials in the United States.

        But the company is often recruited by major drug companies to act as an independent, third-party monitor of drug tests being conducted by other companies.

        “What we do is facilitate the process of getting patient data to the drug companies,” said Frank Santoro, Kendle's vice president of North American operations. “We make sure the tests are conducted properly, and the pharmaceutical companies are getting accurate results.”

        Michael Laird, director of new business development for Kendle, said the reason so many drug companies are turning to contract research organizations for help is simple.

        With so many new drugs coming down the pipeline, it's cheaper for drug companies to use an outside agency than to hire more researchers and recruit the patients necessary to conduct the increasing number of drug trials, Mr. Laird said.

        “It used to be that the drug companies managed more of it (drug testing) themselves,” he said. “But now, rather than do it in-house, it's easier to get someone else to do it for them.”


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