Puerto Rico has long been known for its pharma manufacturing prowess, but multinational companies are increasingly looking to conduct clinical trials there, thanks to strong institutional support, a strong example set by R&D-focused university spin-off companies, and the island’s unique ethnic profile.
The Hispanic population has been historically underrepresented in clinical trials, which not only limits the generalizability of results, but also the ability of Hispanic patients to access potentially life-saving innovations in development.
The unincorporated US territory of Puerto Rico has a well-established reputation as a manufacturing hub for multinational pharmaceutical companies, with favourable tax incentives, proximity to the US market and a highly educated and skilled workforce. It is the fifth-largest region in the world for pharmaceutical manufacturing with more than 80 plants, including those of pharma giants Eli Lilly, GSK, Novartis, and Pfizer. Furthermore, the pharma industry contributes up to 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP, and the island produces many of the top-selling drugs in the US.
However, Puerto Rican pharma is increasingly also looking towards new opportunities, including in research and development, with organisations such as the Puerto Rico Consortium for Clinical Investigation (PRCCI) and FDI Clinical Research promoting the island as a viable location for clinical trials. According to Jose Rodriguez Orengo, CEO of FDI Clinical Research, “Today, the manufacturing industry contributes to around 45 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP, while research only accounts for 0.8 percent. We would like to see this number grow by four or five times within the next five years, positioning R&D as a significant contributor to the Puerto Rican economy.”
Thanks to efforts to increase Puerto Rico’s visibility in the R&D space, clinical trials have already begun and Ivan Lugo of Puerto Rico’s Industry University Research Center (INDUNIV), reports that “One of the success stories is the homegrown start-up MBQ Pharma, which will soon test an immune therapy product in phase one clinical trials. The company has emerged from the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus pharmacy school and is working with the Molecular Center and has already received funding from PRIDCO.”
Other stakeholders have also noted that Puerto Rico’s largely Hispanic population makes it an ideal location for testing drug responses on historically underserved ethnic groups. Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) has already begun conducting a number of clinical trials in Puerto Rico. As Leonado Hibalgo, general manager of BMS in Puerto Rico notes, “We have 19 ongoing clinical trials in seven sites on the island focused on haematology, oncology, anti-coagulation and psoriasis. We are convinced that this is an area where we can make a significant difference from Puerto Rico, as the Hispanic population has been historically underrepresented in clinical trials. This not only limits the generalizability of results, but also the ability of Hispanic patients to access potentially life-saving innovations in development.”