Southern Research is using $20 million in state ARPA funds to expand Alabamians’ access to clinical research trials and promote the growth of the state’s biomedical industry.
The new initiative at Southern Research was included among $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act spending supported by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and approved during a special session of the Alabama Legislature earlier this year.
“We are using these funds to create an innovative software platform that will make it easier for patients and their doctors to locate and plug into cutting-edge clinical trials,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., the President and CEO at Southern Research. “Our goal is to make sure Alabamians have access to the very best options for their care.”
In addition to developing the platform to make clinical trial information more available and accessible, Southern Research hired its first ever Vice President of Medical Affairs and Patient Advocacy to connect the new resource with patients and the medical community.
Dr. Khalilah Brown, a pediatrician who most recently served as the child health medical director and laboratory director at the Jefferson County Department of Health, joined Southern Research in March.
“I’m thrilled at the chance to be a bridge between the great work that is happening at Southern Research and the patients who ultimately benefit from it,” Dr. Brown said. “At the end of the day, patients motivate our work, and it is a great benefit on all sides when we can build stronger connections between researchers, patients and healthcare providers.”
By creating new infrastructure to support access to clinical trials, Southern Research hopes to attract more of those trials to Alabama, which would have a significant economic impact as well as health benefits for the state.
“The new project at Southern Research has the potential to be a particular benefit for healthcare in rural communities,” Gov. Ivey said. “It will boost residents’ access to the latest clinical trial research and offer new revenue opportunities for rural healthcare providers. For the state overall, it will help us grow an industry that can have a tremendous economic impact.”
Nationally, clinical trials were a $50 billion industry in 2022, and that number is expected to grow to $80 billion by 2030, Carpenter said. To the extent more clinical trials are conducted in Alabama, new jobs will be created, and existing health care providers will have opportunities to benefit from them.
“This is an opportunity to support hospitals and communities that don’t usually have access to the latest in healthcare technology,” Carpenter said. “We see this as a way to improve healthcare equity and healthcare outcomes for Alabamians.”
The potential to improve health outcomes made the Southern Research project a natural fit for ARPA funds, which the federal government made available to assist with the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the first time in its recorded history, Alabama had more deaths than births in 2020,” Carpenter said. “In large measure, this was due to COVID-19 and the underlying health conditions that made the virus so deadly for Alabamians. By making cutting-edge research more broadly available, we have the opportunity to improve our community’s health and our resilience to infections like COVID-19.”