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Tuesday, April 18, 2000

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Kathleen Dobiss, a radiologic technologist for Radiant
Research Honolulu, performs a DXA scan last week on
Marilyn Tomita to measure her bone density. Radiant is
one of two for-profit medical research firms in Hawaii.

Hawaii medical
research firms swap
cash for human
guinea pigs

Data obtained from testing
new drugs on volunteers
is then sold to biotech and
pharmaceutical companies

By Tim Ruel


WHAT would you do to make $1,000 in just one day?

For the next month, up to 90 Japanese and Caucasian men in Honolulu will make that much by taking a new drug and then giving numerous blood samples throughout the day.

"They get one stick, and then we take many blood samples through that connection," says Dr. Richard Wasnich, who directs the Kakaako company performing the blood tests, Radiant Research Honolulu.

Radiant is one of two for-profit companies in Hawaii paying well to tap the research potential of the state's large percentage of men and women of Japanese ancestry. Testing for possible side effects of new drugs, the two companies sell their findings to the world's pharmaceuticals giants.

The $1,000-a-day test, for example, will study the effects of growth hormones. Volunteers get one dose of the drug in the morning, then have their blood sampled for the rest of the day.

Researchers will watch for side effects, particularly changes in blood sugar, which are linked to long-term use of the drug.

Wasnich does not expect side effects during Radiant's test, because it only lasts one day.

Radiant advertised the tests last week, looking for qualified male subjects between ages 20 and 50. Enrollment is scheduled to close by May 15.

Radiant started placing Caucasian callers on the waiting list just hours after the ad ran.

"Everybody likes me," Wasnich says. "It's a great deal of fun, actually."

Radiant runs 20 to 30 studies of different drugs at one time. Some get advertised, but not all, because Radiant can often draw from previous pools of participants.

Each study pays differently. A volunteer who comes in once a month for blood samples won't get as much as someone who participates in a study that requires hospitalization for two weeks. One recent ad offered $3,500 for men to spend 15 days in a research unit during a six-week period.

In contrast, Dr. Richard Arakaki, who runs nonprofit kidney research at some local hospitals, pays $20 to $25 per visit as a token to volunteers.

"We certainly don't give the $3,500 stipend that you see," Arakaki says. His research, affiliated with the University of Hawaii, is a public service, he said, noting that his tests are also less demanding on volunteers.

Wasnich said study participants also often come in for free medical care, not the money. People who have a disease that is expensive to treat may volunteer to test an experimental drug.

Moreover, about one-third of Wasnich's volunteers do it because they don't have health insurance, he said. Anywhere from 7 percent to 13 percent of Hawaii's residents fall into that category, according to various studies.

Radiant's work, kicked off in 1979, mainly deals with treatment for osteoporosis, or the weakening of bones.

The company recruits 400 to 500 volunteers a year.

Radiant, the local subsidiary of Washington-based Radiant Research Inc., combines results with findings of affiliate subsidiaries around the country, then sells the information to biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The other company in the same business here is the Hawaii Clinical Research Center.

The center mainly studies drugs that effect the central nervous system, and brings in 300 to 400 volunteers a year, said Dr. Denis Mee-Lee, director. Hawaii Clinical runs about 10 studies at a time.

Both companies frequently advertise their tests to attract volunteers, typical of the competitive field, though neither would say how much it spends on the ads each year.

Unlike Radiant's ads, however, Hawaii Clinical's ads do not mention how much the tests pay.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulates research companies tightly, including the publication of stipends, and Hawaii Clinical prefers not to tangle with regulations, Mee-Lee said.

Mee-Lee opened the clinic in 1989 to tap into the explosion of business in the pharmaceutical industry.

Hawaii has a niche within that growth, Radiant's Wasnich said. Its large percentage of people of Japanese ancestry makes it a prime testing ground for Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare, Wasnich said.

Both Radiant and Hawaii Clinical frequently run tests comparing Caucasians and Japanese.

Both companies' directors said their research may bolster the state's image as an international health destination.

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