FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Covance Inc., located in the Restaurant Row complex, is a drug development services company that holds clinical trials and studies on drugs. Medical Director Dr. Jon Ruckle, left, and Site Director Dr. Mark Jacobs show off the medical observation area used for monitoring study participants, complete with EKG machines. CLICK FOR LARGE
Medicine is put to the test
A Honolulu facility pays people to try out new drugs for science
People looking for more effective, safe and cheaper medicines can help researchers find them by participating in clinical studies at Covance Inc.'s Honolulu facility.
Drugs are being tested for a range of medical conditions, from osteoarthritis to jet lag. Participants receive payment, depending on the type of study and commitment required.
"We find out what works and what doesn't work," said Dr. Mark Jacobs, pharmacologist and Covance site director. "Our study participants have made significant contributions in evaluating new medicines that can help save and improve people's lives."
Covance, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical research and development services companies, acquired Radiant Research Inc. in June and relocated the Honolulu clinic to upgraded quarters in Restaurant Row.
The facility has 50 beds for overnight participants, staff members fluent in Japanese and Chinese, ethnic meals and other conveniences.
Dr. Jon Ruckle, medical director, who was with Radiant Research for seven years, said the Honolulu clinic is one of 11 worldwide "phase one" centers -- testing some drugs for the first time, he said.
It has 30 full-time and 30 part-time staff members. "We're screening dozens of people pretty much each week for different studies," he said.
Jacobs, involved in clinical research for more than 25 years, said Ruckle has done more "bridging" studies than any physician in the world on drugs that pharmaceutical companies want to market in Japan or other Asian countries.
"Japanese authorities require comparison because Japanese participants often have different ways that drugs metabolize," Jacobs said. "If it's different, we have to figure out the best dose for Japanese subjects."
He said Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to do such studies because of access both to a large number of Japanese and Caucasian visitors and residents.
The clinic might have 15 to 20 different trials at any one time, Jacobs said. Studies are being done, for example, on diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, nutrition, hypertension, renal insufficiency, anemia and blood pressure.
One of the most interesting studies now concerns jet lag, with participants paid up to $3,500. They stay two nights in the Honolulu facility, then if they meet certain parameters, they are flown to New York or Florida where they spend two to three nights in a place designated by the company, Jacobs said.
Some get a drug that is supposed to help with jet lag, while others get a placebo. Their sleep patterns are monitored at night to see whether there is a difference between the groups.
Studies average 30 to 40 participants but range from two to 100 or more for larger trials, he said. More than 45,000 Hawaii participants are listed in the clinic's database, and "most regulars participate in one to two studies per year," Jacobs said.
"We try to make this a good experience, and they're willing to return," Ruckle said.
"The system only works if it's done carefully with the right people with due regard for the well-being of the participant," he added.