Iowa leaders and health coalition seek to raise awareness of clinical research

DES MOINES — Iowa continues to increase the amount of clinical trials conducted across the state, according to a report released Tuesday, which several research groups in the state say has prompted them to launch a new organization that will increase awareness about the importance of medical clinical research and how it impacts Iowans.

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds joined members of the newly formed Iowa Coalition of Clinical Researchers (ICCR) at the UnityPoint Health in Des Moines to tout how clinical trails benefit patients in Iowa and the state’s economy.

“The Iowa Coalition of Clinical Researchers, I think, is an exciting new organization that certainly fits with our image and our vision of where Iowa can be in the future,” Branstad said. “The work being done by researchers is very important to our state.”

More than 1,200 pharmaceutical clinical trials have been conducted in Iowa since 1999, according to the report, “Research in Your Backyard: Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials in Iowa,” released by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Jeff Trewhitt, senior director of communications and public affairs for PhRMA, said half of the clinical trials in Iowa are focused on treatments for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver and kidney diseases and neurological disorders.

Iowa City houses most of the state’s clinical trials, the report said, with 710 clinical trials conducted or underway by research institutions in Iowa City since 1999. Another 76 clinical trials have been conducted or are ongoing at institutions in Cedar Rapids.

A 2011 study by the biopharmaceutical industry found the industry supported more than 14,000 jobs across the state. Those employees wages and benefits resulted in about $53 million in federal taxation and $8.5 million in state taxes, the report said, with the industry generating $3.4 billion in economic activity.

“Our state’s investment in education and life sciences research and development has not only paid off economically; it has contributed to new treatments and improved health care for patients all over the world,” Branstad said.

The ICCR’s goal is to better engage and educate Iowa communities about clinical trials and how patients can participate. Clinical trials are a significant portion in developing new drugs and treatments, researchers said, taking up seven of the 10 to 15-year process to bring a new treatment into clinical practice.

Gary Rosenthal, a principal investigator at the Institute for Clinical and Translational Sciences at the University of Iowa, said he hopes the new organization and its efforts to improve awareness among patients and doctors can help speed up the development process.

“An important goal we have is trying to develop the innovative ways to speed up the process of drug discovery once we found that something is effective, and most important how do we ensure that everyone, all Iowans, can benefit from that therapeutic advance,” he said.

Trewhitt said Iowa is “near the top” compared to other groups of agrarian, rural states in clinical trials because of several well-established research centers like those at the University of Iowa and the state’s proven track record in attracting clinical research.

Both Branstad and Reynolds noted efforts in clinical research and the development of the ICCR all contribute to their ongoing efforts to promote the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM fields.

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