LI home to third of NY experimental drug trials

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Nearly a third of the 7,000 clinical trials for experimental drugs held in New York during the past 13 years have taken place on Long Island, industry officials said Thursday.

There were 2,181 trials in Nassau and Suffolk counties from 1999 to April, PhRMA, a pharmaceutical industry trade group, said in a new report.

About half of the trials focused on drugs treating cancer, mental illness, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

Communities that are medical hubs have drawn the most experiments, led by cancer and mental illness drugs.

Largely due to its proximity to North Shore-LIJ facilities, Lake Success leads Long Island with the most trials currently for cancer drugs, at 34. Commack has 23 and Rockville Centre has 20, according to the report. Cedarhurst has a dozen active trials for drugs treating mental illness, followed by Manhasset's four.

All of the 228 local drug trials that are under way need new enrollees, PhRMA officials said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires clinical trials to ensure that drugs are safe and effective. Participation in them offers hope to severely ill patients, but risks include potentially serious side effects.

Geri Barish, a three-time breast cancer survivor whose mother died from the disease, enrolled her son Michael in drug trials after he was stricken with Hodgkin lymphoma at 13.

The consent forms outlined terrifying risks. "He could lose his eyesight, he could lose his hearing -- and I'm thinking, what do you do? I want my son to live," Barish said.

"A lot of it worked; he lived to age 25, went to college" and worked as a photographer, said Barish, president of 1 in 9: The Long Island Breast Cancer Coalition in Hewlett.

But the experimental drugs -- and the high dosages of radiation that were customary when her son fell ill in 1976 -- eventually claimed his life.

She spoke after an afternoon news conference hosted by Bostwick Laboratories at its offices in Uniondale. Bostwick has done testing needed for clinical trials since 2002, said Martin Stefanelli, chief executive.

People can find clinical trials in their area by visiting a National Institutes of Health website, clinicaltrials.gov.

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said the research strengthens the local economy.

"We're not a territory that can have a lot of smokestacks. We're a territory that can use our intellect and make products that way," he said.

Ronit Simantov, an oncologist and senior medical director at Pfizer, cited successes her company has had developing drugs, but said breakthroughs remain rare. "Thousands and thousands of compounds are discovered in the lab and only about five in 10,000 of those ever make it to patients at all, and only one actually makes it to be a drug that is sold on the market," she said.

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