Latin American workshop arms Venezuelan dermatologist for oncology clinical trials

olga-zerpa-(1).jpgDr. Olga Zerpa is battling two stubborn foes. As a dermatologist and a surgeon, her passion is for conquering cancer with new and improved treatments. And, as a researcher, she wants to bring clinical trials to her homeland Venezuela, a country mired in economic and health care crises. This two-pronged battle brought Dr. Zerpa to last year’s UC San Diego Extension’s Clinical Trials in Latin America Workshop.

It took more than a year of planning for Dr. Zerpa to arrange to travel to San Diego for the intensive course, which is offered live in San Diego, taught in Spanish, and attracts medical professionals from across Latin American. “Our exchange system is broken, making the Venezuelan currency very undervalued relative to the dollar, so it’s really difficult for Venezuelans to travel abroad or pay in dollars for any good or service,” Dr. Zerpa explained. “I was so happy to get to go to the workshop because there are no formal courses on clinical trials in my country.”

After 18 years in a public hospital in Venezuela, attending to the dermatologic effects of tropical diseases, Dr. Zerpa began devoting her work exclusively to cancer three years ago. She now practices at a private hospital in Caracas “doing the country’s most important cancer work.” Moving forward, Dr. Zerpa wants to focus her career on clinical trials in oncology – and the workshop, together with online courses she took through UC San Diego Extension, served as her introduction.

Despite the expansion of clinical trials throughout the region, Dr. Zerpa said Venezuela’s economic situation is so dire that “the few pharmaceutical companies here are closing their doors and no clinical trials are being conducted.” Fortunately, the insights and contacts she made at the San Diego workshop opened doors for her in other Latin American countries, where she is now serving as a consultant to clinical trials. “With the knowledge I gained, I was able to actively participate in international medical meetings and secure the consulting roles.”

Among the topics covered in-depth in the workshop are:

  • Introduction to international clinical trials

  • Drug development and medical devices

  • Ethics and IRBs in clinical research

  • Regulatory issues in Latin America

  • Good clinical practices

  • Contract research organizations

  • Professional standards and fraud prevention

“Having the coursework in my native language, I understood it all and I enjoyed hearing the full experience of the faculty in person,” Dr. Zerpa said. “I had the opportunity to share doubts and concerns and to get answers to specific questions.” The balance of lectures and small group learning enable both broad exposure to the UCSD faculty experts and close networking with the professionals in attendance, said Dr. Leonel Villa-Caballero, M.D., Ph.D., who directs the program.

Dr. Zerpa said that with this workshop, her peers in Latin America will “know the regulations to get clinical trials underway and will gain a broad vision to guide their research work.”

The workshop will be offered May 26 – 27, 2016, playing host to more than 30 professionals from Latin America. Find out more information about the program here.

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