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February 19, 2010

Biotechnology research is no trial-and-error approach

Biotechnology research is no trial-and-error approach

By Tom Greene

As Georgia struggles to climb out of the economic morass, it will take a new breed of leaders to recognize that the economic future of the state lies not in manufacturing, agriculture or military contracting but in biotechnology research.

Clinical trials of new medications or cutting-edge medical device technology offer unparalleled opportunities to bring research dollars, venture capital funds, free health care and, most importantly, jobs to our region.

Georgia ranks 17th in the nation for active recruiting of Phase I clinical trials. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 17.8 percent of Georgians have no health insurance. While Georgia watches Washington try to determine the fate of health care reform, the state can provide health care to its citizens by becoming the epicenter of biotechnology research.  

Consider clinical trials, for example. In most trials, patients with or without medical insurance are recruited to participate based on their medical history or disease state. These volunteers receive full physical examinations and thorough diagnostic screening and evaluation from credentialed professionals. Trials may last many years, during which the participant's health is closely monitored. This health maintenance byproduct is provided at no cost to the participant. 

Marietta resident Debra Skurski was unemployed when she volunteered to participate in a trial of blood pressure medication already on the market; the pharmaceutical company's ongoing tests maintain current statistics on the possible side effects of a blood pressure medication.

"It was a great way to have free meds and regular monthly checkups," Skurski says. "My regular cost of blood pressure meds runs about $75 a month, so that was a huge savings. Monthly checkups at my doctor would have been about $65."

The pharmaceutical company covered colonoscopies at the beginning and end of the trial, because one possible (statistically insignificant) side effect was colon cancer. She was paid a $400 stipend and transportation costs, and she would have received medical care at no cost in the event of complications caused by a side effect.

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