Local residents have more than their fair share of chances to get involved in clinical trials that test new drugs or other medical treatments.

Texas ranks No. 2 in the nation for the number of clinical trials conducted and Waco hosts more such testing than many other similarly sized cities across the state, according to a recently 
released report from the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of 
America.

Right now, dozens of trials involving everything from asthma to cancer are being conducted locally, according to the report.

In all, 172 trials have been conducted in Waco since 1999, the industry group says.

“We’re trying to get the word out because so many trials don’t have enough patients,” said Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the group. “That can slow drug development.

“We know people have a lot of questions. What we’re trying to do (with this report) is fill in the blanks.”

Richard Beswick, senior vice president for research at Scott & White Healthcare, said there is a need for more patient education about clinical trials.

People who have life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, tend to be more willing to test new treatments. But when it comes to less serious conditions, people show less interest, he said.

“It’s just a natural thing for patients to say no,” Beswick said. “They are afraid they are going to be a guinea pig. Or they start asking: ‘Am I going to die? Is this more serious than I thought and that’s why they want me to be part of it?’

“You’ve just got to get past those things and explain (the potential benefits) to patients.”

Large population

Texas’ large population and the fact that the state has a high percentage of people with chronic conditions most often targeted by trials are key reasons why testing is so prevalent here, Beswick said.

Even so, Scott & White struggles to enroll participants. That is particularly true with minority patients, he said.

Scott & White personnel involved in trials try to overcome the enrollment challenge by talking to eligible patients about the ins and outs of testing, Beswick said.

One specific fear some people have is that they will be given a placebo when they have a condition needing active treatment, he said.

“You’re never going to receive a sugar pill or something like that” for such conditions, Beswick said.

Scott & White currently is participating in 600 trials in 22 areas of medicine, Beswick said. Most are conducted at the system’s main campus in Temple.

But some have participants at other system facilities, including Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco.

Trewhitt, from the industry group, agreed the main reason more people don’t participate in trials is a fear of being part of an unsafe experiment.

But the law requires participants to be fully briefed on all the potential risks and benefits. Plus, an independent review board must approve every trial before it begins and then oversee it as it progresses, he said.

Another important point is that people can drop out of a trial at any point, Trewhitt said.

If the doctor’s visits or other activities involved with a trial become too much or people simply want to try a different treatment route, they are free to quit, he said.

In some cases, patients receive a small amount of money to participate in clinical trials, Trewhitt said.

The money often is aimed at covering transportation expenses. Other times, patients simply receive treatment for free or at a reduced price, he said.

The main questions patients should ask themselves if they are eligible for a trial is whether they feel up to participating and whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

“They have to make a calculation,” he said.

Trewhitt predicted Texas will continue to be a hot spot for medical testing. In addition to its sizable population, the state also enjoys a strong biomedical research infrastructure and has created a business environment attractive to biotechnology companies, he said.

More than 14,000 clinical trials are currently underway in the state, according to the recent report.

They include the testing of 914 new medications for the six most debilitating chronic diseases in the United States, it said.

People wanting more information about trials going on in Central Texas can search an online database maintained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health at www.clinicaltrials.gov.