South Australia continues to build its biomed hub credentials with the opening of one of the country’s most contemporary, dedicated early-phase clinical trial facility.

When IDT Australia’s CMAX opened its early-phase clinical trial facility in downtown Adelaide in April, media coverage was minimal. Perhaps that’s because early phase trials – which test new medical treatments on a relatively small sample of people only – seem far removed from the eventual commercialisation of some new wonder drug or device.

Yet it’s likely the press will start paying considerably more attention to the new facility once its medical and economic contributions are better appreciated.

According to CMAX, its trials have already resulted in the advancement of medicines used in a wide range of health care treatments from cancer and pain control to skin conditions and hormone replacement therapies. Meanwhile, each early phase trial at CMAX will inject revenue into the local economy, sometimes up to as much as $1 million, says the company.

Lessons learned

Certainly Jane Kelly, CMAX’s Vice President, Clinical Services, already appreciates the new facility’s benefits – in part because it has been two decades in the making.

“I like to say it’s the oldest and newest facility of its type in the country,” says Kelly. That’s because the unit, which is heralded as the most contemporary, dedicated early-phase clinical trials facility in Australia, was originally set up in a ward in an Adelaide hospital way back in 1993. “It was meant to be a temporary location but 22 years later we were still there,” explains Kelly. In fact, CMAX is now one of the longest-running units of its kind in Australia.

It means Kelly and her colleagues have had plenty of time to think about what kind of facility they would like to be working in. Certainly they weren’t backwards in offering suggestions once planning started.

“We had plenty of success working in the old place. For example, it was CMAX that did the vaccination study for swine flu for [global biotherapeutics company] CSL. That proved crucial in facilitating a national vaccination program. But it was great to sit down with the architects and work out how to make the workflow more efficient.”

Explains Kelly, “In the new facility we’ve got features such as a centralised nurses’ station. The lighting, heating, cooling and water usage has all been automated. All the latest technology has been installed. Plus, we’re now one of the largest, dedicated early phase facilities in Australia.”

International interest

Many of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies are already choosing to conduct research at CMAX, says Kelly, mainly from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea. CMAX’s high level facility is not the only reason for this however; Australia is a drawcard in itself.

“There are several reasons for the international interest,” Kelly says. “Australia’s regulatory regime and ethical review system work quicker than their counterparts in places such as America and Asia. In the pharmaceutical industry time is money, so that’s a big selling point.”

She adds: “Our location also works to our advantage. If a company is trying to gain a competitive advantage by creating a new treatment, it’s easier to be discreet if they’re conducting their research in Adelaide.”

Innovations ahead

Of course, Kelly can’t say too much about the work going on in CMAX’s shiny new premises due to commercial confidentiality constraints. She does, however, mention two projects.

“We’re soon to start a study on an innovative wristwatch-style device,” she says. “That device could provide diabetics with an early warning system for hypoglycaemic events.

“We’ve also partnered with a Japanese biopharmaceutical company and physicians from SAHMRI [South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute], Royal Adelaide Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital on a gene therapy study. That may lead to a new treatment for peripheral arterial disease.”

A boon for South Australia

Whatever medical breakthroughs CMAX may help deliver in the years to come, it’s already delivering significant economic returns for South Australia.

“We’ve got almost 40 permanent employees and around 60 contractors working casually as nursing, lab, science and graduate staff,” Kelly says. “Then there are ancillary services, such as catering, pathology and pharmacy, not to mention the 14,000 volunteers we have on our database. We’ll use 1,500 to 2,000 of them in any one year and they all get paid.”

CMAX is also part of the South Australian government’s plans to make Adelaide one of the largest life sciences clusters in the southern hemisphere by building a $3.6 billion ‘BioMed City’.[1]

“We’re now across the road from the brand new Royal Adelaide Hospital and SAHMRI,” Kelly says. “Next year, the University of Adelaide’s $231 million Health and Medical Sciences building will open nearby. In 2018, the University of South Australia will open its $230 million Health Innovation Building.”[2]

[1] For more information, go to healthindustries.sa.gov.au/adelaide-biomed-city.html visited on 4.11.16

[2] For more information, see investadelaide.com.au/news/research-precinct-signals-healthy-future-for-industry

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