|EDINBURG, August 7 - With an advanced biotech and clinical trial research program about to start in the Rio Grande Valley, the region could conceivably be the place where a cure for diabetes is found, says Dr. Marcel Twahirwa.
The medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Edinburg spoke with great excitement about plans to bring cutting-edge clinical trials research to South Texas patients through a partnership between Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR), the National Clinical Trials Network (NMQF), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Microsoft.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for the community and for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and for diabetes specialists,” Twahirwa said. “We are going to see, I am pretty sure, in the next several years, new products, new medications, and new research. We will see a new laboratory built here, and hopefully the cure of diabetes will come from the Valley.” Asked if this last line might be wishful thinking, Twahirwa said: “If you look for it you just might find it. I am certain we will contribute to the cure of diabetes.”
Twahirwa said the Research Institute at Renaissance has been set up specifically to build capacity for the clinical trials research and to integrate the work PhRMA and NMQF will be doing. He said the development of the research institute will be the first of its kind in the Valley.
“This means so much to me. For a long time we have been treating patients in the minority populations with medications that have not really been studied in the minority populations. We know that a very small percentage, maybe only three to five percent, of all clinical trials involve minorities. To actually have a center that is doing clinical trials on minorities is huge. We will be able to really find out how these medications work on minority populations. It will be truly transformational,” Twahirwa said.
The announcement of the clinical trial research partnership was made at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance by Dr. Gary Puckrein, president and CEO of the NMQF, and Salvatore Alesci, vice president of scientific affairs for PhRMA.
Puckrein said that across the country, only one percent of patients that take part in clinical trials are Hispanic and only five percent are African American. He said it is essential that clinical researchers work to improve the quality and effectiveness of drugs, biologics and devices in racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in advanced clinical research, such as Hispanics in the Valley.
“Increasing the diversity of the patient populations enrolled in all clinical trials is essential to the availability of best possible medical treatment to historically underrepresented populations, and to assure the safety and effectiveness of potential new medicines for the rapidly changing American demographic,” Puckrein told the Guardian.
Conducting research in the Valley, Puckrein predicted, would allow biopharmaceutical companies increased access to a hitherto neglected minority population. “We want to take the minority population, the future population of America, and put it in the 21st Century,” he added.
PhRMA’s Alesci agreed with Puckrein’s analysis.
“When we are talking about only one percent of those participating in clinical trials being Hispanic and only five percent being African American, it is clear we have a problem. What we are seeing in clinical trials today is not reflective of the changing demographics. It is not acceptable. It is not acceptable from a scientific standpoint. It is not acceptable in terms of equality,” Alesci said.
Asked who will participate in the clinical trials, Alesci said that would be decided by a patient and his or her doctor. “We will provide information allowing them to make an informed decision. If a doctor is a volunteer, they get paid. The patients do not get paid, that would be unethical. But, they get access to health medication for free,” Alesci told the Guardian, adding that he is thrilled that PhRMA is going to be “part of the transformation of healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Dr. Carlos Cardenas, interim CEO of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, boldly predicted that the development of the Research Institute at Renaissance and the biotech and clinical trials it will undertake will lead to some of the biggest advances in healthcare the Valley has ever seen.
“This is incredibly exciting, the synergy, the momentum, it is huge,” Cardenas said. “This synergy has been building for some time and to see it come to fruition is just amazing. It is transformative for our community. I cannot use any other word, it is truly transformational.”
Cardenas then started to think about the years of struggle Valley doctors and hospitals have gone through trying to build the type of medical infrastructure its fast growing population deserves. The pain was etched on his face and he found it hard to deliver his words. “To be able to bring first line research, clinical trials to this population… that has been ignored for so long, is a big deal, a big deal,” he said.
Cardenas said DHR is “dedicated to bringing the best, the latest and greatest to our population.” He said as large as the Valley is today, it should not be denied the sort of healthcare infrastructure other communities of similar size enjoy. “We are 1.4 million people here. That is what they have in Bexar County. That is a lot of people. To not have access to the research protocols, to not have access to the things they have in the larger metropolitan areas is… wrong.”
Cardenas added that the most important thing about the new partnerships will be the research produced.
“We will know which treatments work best in Mexican Americans and which ones don’t. We will be working with evidence-based medicine to bring the very best care to our patients. The way this is set up to work, it will mean the work is done in the exam room where it belongs. This way, we go from the bench to the bedside with research.”