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Clinical trials take center stage during 2015 AZBio Expo

A panel discusses clinical trials during the 2015 AZBioExpo at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix Hotel April 29. (Photo courtesy of Mark Goldstein, International Research Center)

A panel discusses clinical trials during the 2015 AZBioExpo at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix Hotel April 29. (Photo courtesy of Mark Goldstein, International Research Center)

Medical and science professionals from around the country gathered at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix April 29 to discuss the role clinical trials play in advancing the bioscience industry.

Speakers during the event, which is the Arizona BioIndustry Association’s annual exposition, touched on several topics related to the growth of clinical trials in Arizona.

The event began with an introduction to the clinical trial process by Mark Slater, vice president of research for Honor Health Research Institute. He said clinical trials are important because they emphasize precision, personalized medicine and teamwork.

“Developing clinical trials brings patients and business opportunities into our communities,” he said. “Great innovations come through collaboration.”

Clinical trials are intended to improve the efficacy of health care and help develop drugs and biomarkers that ultimately help patients.

“We’re all about innovation. This is a fast-moving field.”

Slater also discussed his personal motivations for being involved in the bioscience industry. His daughter’s piano teacher died within three months of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and his daughter was also seriously disabled by disease.

He said that while clinical trials bring business opportunities, they also bring hope and a better quality of life.

FUNDING CLINICAL TRIALS
A panel of industry professionals followed Slater’s talk with a discussion on the challenges in funding increasingly expensive clinical trials.

Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of the Arizona BioIndustry Association, said the cost of clinical trials has doubled in fewer than 15 years, and federal funding for such trials is decreasing.

“If we’re not all working together, it doesn’t work,” Koerber-Walker said.

Clinical trials account for the majority of Arizona’s bioscience spending, which amounted to more than $237 million in 2013, Koerber-Walker said.

Often, people who have benefited from clinical trial treatments, or those who have lost a loved one because treatments were not available fast enough, are responsible for many of the donations that fund clinical trials, she said.

Also, philanthropic groups and investors can provide funding for trials.

“We have a vision of a world in which a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared,” said Teresa Bartels, president of Gateway for Cancer Research, a nonprofit group that funds various clinical trials.

Bartels sees researchers’ financial obstacles as an opportunity for those in the nonprofit world to mobilize their research.

Keynote speaker Matthew Huentelman, head of the Neurobehavioral Research Unit at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), said understanding healthy brains can help researchers understand diseased brains, and current studies do not use a large enough pool of participants.

He also discussed TGen’s research into memory, aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and the organization’s use of online studies to capture larger data samples.

The expo also featured a panel that discussed the importance of engaging patients in the clinical trial process, and another panel that discussed the growth of Arizona’s clinical trials base.

Glen Weiss, director of clinical research and medical oncologist at Western Regional Medical Center, spoke on the future of cancer care.

Several other companies and organizations discussed their work as well.

During her talk, Koerber-Walker emphasized that the work done by members of the Bioscience industry has a profound effect on people’s lives and can shatter the current limits of medicine.

“Life-changing innovation is happening in our community, in our hospitals,” she said.

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