Seeking the best drug available: East Rowan graduate Blanchette to direct center at N.C. Research Campus
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Dr. Christopher Blanchette, a rising star with the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute that will join the N.C. Research Campus this fall, credits several teachers at East Rowan High School for his success.
Blanchette, 29, holds three master’s degrees and a doctorate. He grew up in Rockwell and graduated from East Rowan in 1997.
He directs the New Mexico- based Lovelace Center for Pharmacoeconomic and Outcomes Research, which will relocate to Kannapolis in October.
At East Rowan, Blanchette enjoyed Eugene Sloop’s chemistry and physics classes.
“He inspired my interest in the sciences by providing a common-sense approach to the subjects,” Blanchette said.
Sloop took things that were complicated and explained them in simple terms, Blanchette said.
“I try to use that same approach with my students,” he said.
Blanchette has taught at Campbell University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has an adjunct faculty appointment with the UNC School of Pharmacy.
At East, Blanchette was active in the Junior ROTC program for four years.
He credits his sense of adventure to Rollins Collins and his humility to Richard Sisk, “both wonderful mentors and teachers” in ROTC, he said.
Blanchette now serves as a captain in the Army Reserves, studying military suicide rates as a research psychologist.
When he graduated from East, Blanchette planned to become a mental health counselor.
But while earning a master’s degree in medical sociology from UNC-Charlotte, he became interested in a scientific discipline called pharmacoeconomics.
“It’s looking at the benefits and value of pharmaceutical for the treatment of chronic disease,” Blanchette said, “not only the cost for payers like insurance companies, but also the value of the drug to the patient.
“Is it helping them in their lifestyle? Is it reducing their symptoms? Is it improving their quality of life?”
As a graduate student, Blanchette worked on a team that studied patients with heart failure and the drugs they took.
He interviewed patients at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte about their quality of life, their medications and their out-of-pocket cost.
He realized he wanted to dedicate his career to ensuring that patients “get the best available drug,” he said.
“I studied the impact that cost has on people, not just what you’re paying at the pharmacy but how health plans force you into taking one drug over another,” he said. “They have a lot of control over what drugs you take.”
Now pharmaceutical companies and government agencies hire his research center to learn which drugs have the most value.
While he earned a doctorate in pharmaceutical research from the University of Maryland and completed his post-doctoral work at Duke University, Blanchette began consulting in 2005.
He worked for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmith- Kline until joining the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute a year ago.
One of only two scientists with the pharmacoeconomic center in August 2007, Blanchette has hired four additional researchers and taken the center from no revenue to more than $1 million, his boss said.
“We expect to see great things from him,” said Dr. Bob Rubin, president of the Lovelace institute. “Chris adds the public health side of the equation.”
Although Blanchette’s center is based at Lovelace headquarters in Albuquerque, most of his researchers work from home.
Blanchette lives in Davidson with his wife and child. His parents, Robert and Charlon Claxton, live in Salisbury.
So when his center started booming, he started looking for nearby office space.
“We were growing pretty aggressively, and I wanted to set up an office about the time that I started seeing the development of the N.C. Research Campus,” Blanchette said.
The promised collaboration on the biotechnology campus between eight universities and numerous private companies appealed to Blanchette and Lovelace.
Lovelace looked at several locations in North Carolina before choosing Kannapolis.
“Rather than just pick a regular office site to lease, we wanted to be located near companies that could be potential clients or partners,” president Rubin said.
Blanchette hopes to collaborate with Duke University on a groundbreaking health study named for Research Campus founder David H. Murdock, offering his center’s expertise in epidemiology.
“My first initiative is to work with Duke on the MURDOCK Study, to attempt to support them,” Blanchette said.
He also would like to collaborate with Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc., another newcomer in Kannapolis that runs human clinical trials.
Blanchette said he will hire five to 10 technicians and support staff over the next year. He’s already posted a job for an administrative assistant on the Lovelace Web site, www.LRRI.org.
His center will take over N.C. A&T University’s temporary office in Cannon Village once A&T moves into its permanent facility in October, when the campus officially opens.
Lovelace is a nonprofit corporation that works to prevent, treat and cure respiratory diseases like asthma. The company conducts all phases of drug research, from initial animal studies to Blanchette’s inquiries into patient outcomes.
“Part of that equation is documenting whether a given therapy does anybody any good,” Rubin said. “That’s the kind of thing Chris and his colleagues do.”
Rubin predicted that Blanchette’s center will make an impact on the N.C. Research Campus.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s going to be a big deal.”