A Life-Saving Life’s Work: A Story on the Impact of Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are an essential step in the process to develop new medicines - they also contribute to the local economies where they are conducted.

Guest ContributorMarch 23, 2015
Theresa Brennan

A Life-Saving Life’s Work: A Story on the Impact of Clinical Trials.

TheresaBrennanQ-PhotoClinical trials are an essential step in the process to develop new medicines and as they work to bring about lifesaving new treatments, they also contribute to the local economies where they are conducted. In partnership with PhRMA, Battelle produced a new study on the impact of biopharmaceutical-sponsored clinical trials in all 50 states.

The findings show far-reaching results, with the industry spending $10 billion in 2013 toward conducting 6,199 clinical trials at the site level with 1.1 million participants. This investment means a significant economic impact for each state and a personal impact for its citizens.

For an incredibly unique perspective on the question: "How do clinical trials improve the health of patients and contribute to local economies?" we turned to Theresa “Tess” Brennan, east coast head of Emerging Biopharma Solutions and Customer Solutions Management Group for Quintiles. Take a look at her story:

To answer the question, "How do clinical trials improve the health of patients and contribute to local economies?" I could talk about job creation or corporate spend. 

Quintiles has grown from a couple of people operating out of a university trailer to a global organization of 32,000 people with 2014 service revenues of more than $4.2 billion.  As one of the largest providers of outsourced clinical trial services, we work closely with biopharma companies to help bring better medicines, faster to patients who need them.  In fact, we’ve worked with all 50 of the Top 50 biopharma companies, and we helped develop or commercialize all of 2013’s top-100 best-selling drugs on the market. Quintiles and our employees contribute significantly to the state and local tax bases where we operate (approximately 100 countries).  Further, our employees pump money into the communities where they live as they purchase goods and services locally.

These are just some of the ways we contribute to local economies, but more important is the way in which clinical trials improve the health of patients.  I should know.  A clinical trial changed my life.

I had lived with atypical symptoms from a medical condition for more than 20 years trying to understand why I constantly felt tired and was experiencing bone pain and tenderness around my stomach.  I was given a number of diagnoses ranging from lupus to rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other auto-immune disorders; however, they were not the correct diagnosis.

In 2012, we finally learned that I had been infected with the hepatitis C virus through two blood transfusions I received as a baby.

During my career at Quintiles, I’ve had the honor of seeing firsthand the impact of the meaningful work we do for patients – including developing breakthrough treatments for cystic fibrosis, breast cancer and diabetes.  I’ve played a role in countless studies, involving tens of thousands of patients across North Carolina, the United States and the world.

It wasn’t until I myself needed a clinical trial that I truly understood the value of what we all do and the impact we have on patients – their families and their lives….

As an employee of Quintiles, with 20 years of research experience, I immediately thought of enrolling in a clinical trial. I met the medical criteria and was enrolled in a clinical trial at Duke University Hospital.

Only after being accepted into the trial did I learn that my clinical trial was being managed by Quintiles.

I was enrolled into a Phase II open-label trial with four treatment arms (meaning there were four different treatments available and that I would be randomly selected to receive one of the four).  I was randomized to receive three drugs used in combination to fight hepatitis C and was instructed to take these medications twice daily for eight consecutive weeks.

My initial viral load was 10.6 million at the start of the study.  My family and I hoped that my viral load might be reduced by one-half midway through the study.  Success came even sooner.

During my second week of taking study medication, the medical staff at Duke told me that my viral load was 47.   As in 47 million?  Or 4.7 million?  “No, not 4.7 million or even 47,000,” the staff told me. “Your viral load is at 47 … as in one less than 48.”

This was a life-changing moment for me. My week-two tests showed a viral load of zero, meaning I was considered “non-detectable.” 

My family and I celebrated a major milestone in July 2014, when I was 6 months without any medication, and my test results remained consistent and indicated that I was still non-detectable.  I am now officially considered “Hep-Cured.”

With 20 years of research experience, I know all the ins and outs of clinical trials, but what I didn’t know was what it was like to be an actual study patient.  I’ve celebrated the close of a trial because it means that a drug is getting closer to approval, but I never thought about that patient waiting desperately to get in to a trial, waiting for a cure, but I’ve lived it. I now understand.

When we do our work well, we are impacting patients. When our customers are successful, we collectively bring treatments to people who need them.  THAT’s how clinical trials improve patients’ lives.

Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others to share their perspectives and point of view. Like in our Conversations series, views represented here may not be those of PhRMA, though they are no less key to a healthy dialogue on issues in health care today. 

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