With New Jersey being a hot bed for pharmaceutical, biotech, and biopharma businesses, the outlook for career growth in fields supporting the industry is good. In fact, jobs for people interested in being a clinical research associate — the person who performs drug tests — is very promising, according to www.clinical-research-jobs.net, which tracks the industry.

The website reports that the need for clinical research associates is projected to grow 20 percent or more in the next decade. “It’s a constantly growing field and it constantly needs new people,” says Steve Duprez, adjunct professor at Mercer County Community College, who teaches in the school’s certificate program in drug development and clinical research. “Many contract research organizations and pharmaceutical companies have a growing need for these research associates,” he says. “Anyone conducting clinical research needs the help. It’s really a growing field.” With that positive career outlook in a not-so-positive economy, Mercer County Community College is anticipating full enrollment in classes for its certificate program this fall.

Duprez and his colleagues present a free drug development and clinical research open house on Monday, September 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the college campus on Hughes Drive in Hamilton. For more information, call 609-570-3311 or E-mail Duprez at sduprez@arc-cro.com.

“The open house will give people a real feel for our certificate program,” says Duprez. “They can meet the instructors, ask about the career, and get an understanding of what life is like for a clinical research associate.”

That life can be hectic. The researchers travel more than half the time, visiting with doctors, studying data, and confirming test protocol. “These people are essential in the drug discovery process because they are trial fact checkers,” says Duprez. “New Jersey is a hot bed for this type work because we have so many pharmaceutical companies, clinical research organizations, and biotechs. These researchers go out to the doctor sites, check information, and make sure the data being collected matches source documents and that people are following federal regulations.”

Most people taking the certificate program at Mercer County Community College are non-traditional students. They are older and often looking for a career change. They need to understand what’s behind the research. Often, the people looking for these jobs have science degrees or have worked in the life sciences or nursing and have good experience.

“In addition to those changing careers, the classes also help people already working in research. Sometimes, people in the industry want to get the certification to improve their career paths,” says Duprez.

At the open house, people can learn about the program and the three classes required to earn the certificate. “We really want people to ask questions,” Duprez says. “It’s important to learn about the industry and what the job is like. We want people to know what happens in the field as a clinical research associate.”

The certificate program involves three classes. The first is a foundation class that sets the stage for subsequent classes on data management and regulatory issues.

“We start everyone with the basics. Our foundation course gives an overview of the drug development process and the work done in clinical research,” says Duprez, who has worked in the field for 30 years and is currently the director of clinical operations at the contract research organization Advanced Research Corporation. “In the regulatory program, we explain the Food and Drug Administration and its role in the drug development process. We make sure students realize how crucial compliance is. And then in the data management course, we talk about how urgent it is to evaluate data and make sure it was collected properly. We talk about cleaning the data to make sure there is no human error involved in the drug development process.”

In addition to Duprez, program instructors include Barbara Novak and Edith Senyumba, who teach the foundation class, Lourdes Frau and Surya Vangala, who teach the regulatory class, and Denise Tsilionis, who teaches data management.

As students earn their certificates, they will have a good understanding of the job and career path, according to Duprez, whether they want to be clinical research associates or take on jobs in data management or regulatory affairs. People can progress from a clinical research associate to a senior associate to project manager and then on to program directors. “There are thousands of jobs to fill and there is a constant need for people in the entry levels of this field,” he says. This ever-growing demand is why the college launched the certificate program eight years ago.

“This is a crucial field, helping the development of new drugs,” says Duprez. “The college saw this need and is preparing students for the work. We need to help companies in this area that are looking for a workforce that understand the principles of conducting and managing a clinical trial. Employers need people who understand FDA requirements and manage data in ways that support an ethical clinical trial.”

One reason the instructors can help students prepare for this expanding career is their experience in the field. Each has worked at contract research organizations and been involved in clinical trials.

“I didn’t plan on going into contract research work when I graduated from college,” says Duprez. “I was a biology major at Norwich University in Vermont, and I picked that school primarily because it had the largest on-campus ski area of any college at the time.” But after graduating in 1977, he got a job as a data manager for Ayerst Laboratories in New York City.

“Drug studies amass unbelievable amounts of data. It all needs to be cleaned, checked, and managed in ways that make the information support the discovery process and comply with FDA rules. So I became quite interested in the field,” he says.

It also seemed like a good fit for a boy growing up in Parsippany. His father was a chemical engineer, working in plastics. “He wanted me to follow his footsteps. Luckily it was more important that I listened to his values of getting an education. Because in the end, I found my own niche.” With that focus on education, Duprez went on to earn his masters degree in biology from Seton Hall University. He then began to work as a teacher.

“I enjoy working with people exploring career changes and new opportunities,” he says. “It’s especially rewarding when I’m helping them get ready for a field that is growing as dramatically as clinical research.”

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