By Mark Robinson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday praised the findings of a new study that says clinical trials of new drugs and other medical treatments in Virginia have boosted the state’s economy and created 76,000 jobs over the past 13 years.
McDonnell joined Jeffrey Bond, senior vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, at a press conference to announce the study’s findings. The governor praised the more than 3,400 clinical trials conducted in the commonwealth since 1999. About half of the trials have targeted asthma, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems.
“I think it’s something important we continue to pursue here in Virginia,” McDonnell said. “We’ll continue to do significant clinical trials and things that can alleviate human suffering and lengthen the life expectancy for Virginians.”
Bond said pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars testing new medicines every year.
“The collaborations with Virginia’s medical schools, hospitals and clinical research facilities have contributed to the state’s economy,” he said.
“These clinical trials have not only benefited our economy, they have included tests of new-generation biotechnology treatments that have helped to advance science and improve patient care. With biotechnology’s new techniques, we have the strong potential to develop safer and more effective therapies and are improving our ability to predict and even prevent disease.”
Clinical trials can take five to seven years to complete, Bond said.
Not every clinical trial leads to an approved drug. If 5,000 researchers apply for clinical testing for their product, only five will be chosen for trials, Bond said. Of those five, only one will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, he added.
Critics of clinical trials accuse researchers of duplicating already available medicines – termed “me-too drugs” – for a share of the market. Bond said his trade organization and its member companies don’t do that.
“The me-too reference suggests that it’s really not an innovative entity,” Bond said. “Sometimes we’re building on existing successes – so taking a product that is requires four-times-a-day application and testing it for once a day use. That’s an advancement for the patient.”
With support from state lawmakers, the worth of Virginia’s bioscience industry has ballooned to more than $700 million, McDonnell said at the press conference.
At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry has emerged as a major donor in state politics. Since 1999, pharmaceutical interests have given more than $5 million to state politicians, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which posts campaign finance data on the Internet.
For example, Pfizer Inc., a New York-based pharmaceutical company, has given more than $440,000, including $27,500 to McDonnell, VPAP’s data shows,
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has made political donations totaling more than $400,000, including $25,000 toward McDonnell’s 2009 campaign for governor.
About 60 state lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have banded together as the Virginia General Assembly’s Bioscience Legislative Caucus to promote the development of the bioscience industry. The caucus is funded largely by drug companies and their trade association.
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Nearly 270 clinical trials in Virginia are actively recruiting patients. They include trials of a genetically modified vaccine to treat melanoma, a fusion protein to treat diabetic macular edema and a new antibody that targets lupus and various cancers.
A database maintained by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health puts the number of open clinical trials in Virginia at more than 1,500.