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Maine Gov Touts Benefits of 'Biopharmaceutical' Research
04/19/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

There is a somewhat hidden but growing industry in Maine: clinical trials. PhRMA - the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America - released a report today detailing the economic benefits of biopharmaceutical research. At a State House news conference, PhRMA's CEO was joined by Gov. Paul LePage and representatives from state and city chambers of commerce to underscore the importance of this industry. Patty Wight has more.

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Left to right, Gov. Paul LePage, PhRMA CEO John Castellani and Chris Hall of the Portland Chamber of Commerce at a news conference today touting the benefits of clinical trials.

This is not the first such report produced by PhRMA, an organization that advocates for biopharmaceutical research companies. Similar reports, called "Research in Your Backyard: Developing Cures, Creating Jobs," have been released by PhRMA in at least 17 other states.

The reports describe how clinical trials are part of a growing industry that support good jobs, generate state and federal tax revenue, and help people lead longer, healthier lives.

Here's PhRMA's president John Castellani: "Our sector has a strong and productive relationship with Maine. It's one that benefits all of us - patients, local researchers, and the institutions that they work for.

Castellani says biopharmaceutical research supports around 12,000 jobs in Maine. He says there have been nearly 600 clinical trials in Maine since 1999 for some of the most debilitating chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and mental illness.

For all that work, both the head of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, as well as Chris Hall from the Portland Chamber of Commerce, say it's an industry that doesn't get much recognition.

"This is a hidden part of our economy for many of the people who aren't involved in it," Hall says. "Obviously, we love the types of economic development that we can see and put our hands on, but we love also the parts that contribute in these quiet ways."

The message at the press conference is that Maine should further embrace this industry, and that those who can should participate in the 57 clinical trials currently underway in the state.

It could be easy to brush off the release of the report as little more than a promotional event. But there are people who have a big stake in clinical trials - people like Justin Levesque, who has hemophilia. He has to medicate daily, but his body recently developed an inhibitor against his medication, rendering it ineffective. Levesque says he wants to try newer drugs, but there are no clinical trials for them in Maine.

"Trials that are currently going on in other places are extending the life of these treatments two to three days," he says. "And that is going to change how a hemophiliac will participate in the world completely."

Others agree that Maine needs to increase access to clinical trials. Ambie Hayes-Crosby is clinical research manager at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. She says EMMC collaborates with smaller clinics so they, too, can participate in clinical trials, and she thinks there should be more state-wide partnerships.

"It's a new way of doing things, and I think it's an important way of being together and collaborating together, instead of being silos in the state of Maine as individual businesses," she says. "Because research is for the people, and that's where we need to be."

Hayes-Crosby says every day she walks the halls of her hospital, she sees cancer patients getting treatments that EMMC ran clinical trials on 15 years ago. Helping those medicines enter the market, she says, is a gift.

Gov. Paul LePage agrees. At the press conference, he said his mother-in-law developed a rare disease years ago, and participated in a clinical trial to treat it.

"She's been involved for about 10 years, and she's the lone survivor of that trial," he said. "And if it wasn't for that trial, we would have lost her a long time ago. In fact, my children would have never known their grandmother. So I'm a big believer."

A believer in what clinical trials can do for people, and for Maine. At the end of the press conference, Gov. LePage handed PhRMA CEO John Castellani his card. It reads "Open for Business."

Photos Courtesy of Cashman Communications.



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