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Southern Research to expand clinical trials after receiving $20 million in ARPA funds

Birmingham-based Southern Research announced Monday that the organization will receive $20 million from the state to create a new software platform to expand clinical trials across Alabama.

The money comes from the more than $2 billion in federal money Alabama received as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, with lawmakers allocating the final $1 billion back in March.

In a press release, Southern Research CEO Josh Carpenter said the new software platform will be designed to make clinical trials conducted by Southern Research and other organizations more accessible to both patients and their doctors.

“This is an opportunity to support hospitals and communities that don’t usually have access to the latest in health care technology,” Carpenter said. “We see this as a way to improve health care equity and health care outcomes for Alabamians.”

Southern Research is a nonprofit whose research has led to the development of 20 new drugs, including 50% of all chemotherapy drugs currently on the market. It has conducted more than $30 million in COVID-19 research since 2020.

With clinical trials being a $50 billion industry in 2022, and expected to grow to $80 billion by 2030, Carpenter also hopes the new software will attract more scientific research organizations to the state, benefiting Alabama from both a health care and economic standpoint.

Given that ARPA was passed into law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Carpenter said the $20 million awarded to Southern Research was a natural fit, and that increased clinical trials could help Alabamians’ resilience to future pandemics.

“For the first time in its recorded history, Alabama had more deaths than births in 2020,” he 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.”

The expanded access to such trials could also pose an economic boom, according to Gov. Kay Ivey, who also said the $20 million for Southern Research could help health care access across the state, particularly in rural communities.

Also on Monday, Southern Research announced the hiring of Khalilah Brown as its new vice president of medical affairs and patient advocacy, with Brown being tasked with connecting the new software platform with patients and those in the medical field.

A pediatrician and former child health medical director and laboratory director at the Jefferson County Department of Health, Brown said the new software will be mutually beneficial to both doctors and their patients.

“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,” she 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.”

Brown told Alabama Daily News that the new software platform will see its “engagement phase” launch this fall, with Southern Research staff speaking with communities about how the platform will work for a period of about ten months. The software platform is expected to fully launch by mid-2024, according to Brown.

“It will boost residents’ access to the latest clinical trial research and offer new revenue opportunities for rural healthcare providers,” Ivey said in a statement. “For the state overall, it will help us grow an industry that can have a tremendous economic impact.”


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