Writing in the July 2023 edition of DIA’s Global Forum magazine, Mariana Abdala of Crystal Research outlines the vast room for improvement in Latin America’s clinical trial output, the region’s fundamentals as a research hotspot, and the strategies in place to bolster its global positioning.
Clinical trials in Latin America still face many challenges: Unstable regulations, bureaucratic complications, lack of adequate infrastructure, and an unending need to train researchers, physicians, and related research personnel show how much work remains to be done. Although quality levels and standards have noticeably improved, Latin America produces only about 3% of the world’s research, far behind Europe and Asia, which account for 25% and 29%, respectively. There is vast room for improvement.
Many European countries and the United States have a long and productive history of clinical research. Stable regulations and broad opportunities for clinical trials have helped develop a considerable number of research centers and large patient populations and databases. Although Europe has lost some competitive ground to Asia during the past decade, it still holds a leadership position in global clinical research, along with the United States and for similar reasons.
But certain aspects of Latin America are attractive for purposes of clinical research. For example, this region has broad ethnic (genetic) diversity; in addition, certain costs may be significantly lower and therefore more attractive for the pharmaceutical industry sponsors.
Getting Involved in Clinical Research: Experience and Education
The investments made by pharmaceutical companies to meet the rising demand for medicines increase the need for specialized, well-trained human resources to conduct clinical trials. This is not only an important opportunity to benefit patients, the regional community, and science; it is also an important driver to develop clinical research professionals and employment opportunities.
When I ask my students about their main interests, they express concern about where they could find employment as clinical trial coordinators or clinical monitors if they have no prior experience. They wonder how to gain such experience since many pharmaceutical companies seem to hire experienced personnel only. Difficulty with other languages and being prepared for audits are also concerns.
When considering these students and their desire to develop into professionals working for CROs or pharmaceutical companies, those of us who have been training personnel in clinical research centers for more than 20 years know that we were self-taught or were perhaps mentored by more experienced professionals. This happens primarily because in Latin America there are very few places where courses and workshops are available for learning these practices, or where training fellowships are available in research centers.
For all these reasons, it is extremely important that Latin American countries develop and offer more educational programs and forums, such as the ones provided by the Universidad Abierta Interamericana in Argentina; and by Crystal Research and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, both in Peru. These provide workshops that disseminate current scientific and research information, plus channels for mentorship. Providing students with professional orientation and support, and helping them develop research competencies and skills, may give them further impetus to pursue professional development in the clinical research field.