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Maine clinical drug trials called lifesavers

Glenn Adams, Associated Press

Gov. Paul LePage, left, presents an "Open for Business" business card to PhRMA CEO John Castellani, at a news conference Friday, April 19, 2013, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. A new report says the more than 550 clinical trials of new medicines in Maine since 1999 support thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in federal and state taxes. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- More than 550 clinical trials of new medicines in Maine since 1999 have supported thousands of jobs and brought millions of dollars in taxes while saving lives, a report released Friday said.

More than half of those trials targeted six of the most debilitating chronic diseases — asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and stroke — and led to safer and more effective treatments, according to the report presented by Gov. Paul LePage, the drug industry and business leaders.

The report from the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the research even helped save the life of a relative of the governor who participated in one of the clinical trials for a rare disease.

"My mother-in-law, for one, is still with us," said LePage, who did not provide details about the disease. "If it wasn't for that trial, we would have lost her a long, long time ago."

The industry group has presented reports in more than a dozen other states, but the work done in Maine stands out in a few ways, according to chief executive officer John Castellani.

For one, some of the diseases are more likely to strike people who are older, and U.S. census figures show Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country with a high percentage of 65-and-over residents.

In addition, Maine has increased its efforts to attract drug-research and its ties with Massachusetts research facilities.

"That science can migrate across the border," Castellani said.

Titled "Research in Your Backyard," the report said clinical trials on the six major diseases are done at facilities in Auburn, Bangor, Biddeford, Lewiston, Portland, Rockport and Portland.

The clinical trials are often run in conjunction with hospitals such as Maine Medical Center in Portland and Scarborough and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine, which has several locations in Maine. Tests for effectiveness and safety of the drugs are conducted with volunteer patients as the drugs follow a multi-year course toward federal approval.

"Last year, the American Cancer Society estimated there would be 9,200 new cancer cases occur in Maine in 2012," Castellani said. "Our companies and their local collaborators, including Mercy Hospital in Portland and Maine Medical Center in Scarborough, are right now conducting 22 trials of new cancer medicine, and they are also recruiting patients."

The report cites a study showing that in 2008, the biopharmaceutical research industry supported 12,000 jobs in Maine, generating nearly $120 million for employees, $25 million in federal taxes, and $4.1 million in state taxes.

Research firms invested more than $54 million during that year in research and development and supported $2.4 billion in products and services.

"It's a hidden part of our economy for people who aren't involved in it," said Chris Hall, chief executive officer of the Portland Regional Chamber.