Biotech's clinical trials fuel economy, officials say

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in White Plains.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in White Plains. (July 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Siesel

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The Hudson Valley's biotechnology cluster and the clinical trials it generates have become key drivers of the region's economy, public and private sector officials said at a conference Monday in Ardsley.

More than 400 clinical trials have been held in Westchester alone since 1999, according to research by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a drug industry trade group.

"Clinical trials account for 45 to 75 percent of the nearly $1 billion average cost to develop a new drug," Kaelan Hollon, a spokeswoman for the PhRMA trade group, said at the meeting in the offices of Acorda Therapeutics.

Westchester and other Hudson Valley counties are seeking to build a cluster of companies, as in San Diego and south San Francisco, to help grow the region's life-sciences ecosystem. In 2010, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Ulster and Sullivan counties helped launch NY BioHud Valley, a public/private advocacy group for the industry.

"The purpose was to bring together these disconnected pieces," said Larry Gottlieb, Westchester County director of economic development. "The idea was to create play dates among these individual companies."

PhRMA released a report at the conference, Research in Your Backyard: Developing Cures, Creating Jobs, that finds that 716 of the 6,282 clinical trials conducted to win Federal Drug Administration approval for drugs are recruiting New York patients.

Officials stressed therapeutic benefits to patients and the economic benefits to the region.

"Westchester is home to more than 30 life science firms," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. "We have more than 9,600 employees across the Hudson Valley. We're going all we can to support this industry."

Acorda's drugs include Ampyra, which is used to improve walking in people suffering with multiple sclerosis.

Also speaking at the conference was George Yancopoulos, chief scientific officer of Tarrytown-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, maker of a drug for macular degeneration, an eye condition affecting vision in mostly older people. In a recent survey by the journal Science, Regeneron was named the best place to work among biotechnology companies worldwide.

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