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Back to Basics: Yankton Medical Clinic Doctor Helps Research New Drugs for Omaha Company

May 11, 2021 06:43PM ● By Med Editor

When patients visit Dr. Charles Harper at Yankton Medical Clinic's (YMC) Norfolk office, most have no idea he helped test many of the medicines they rely on, including the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Novavax, and Moderna. 

In addition to being an internal medicine specialist with YMC, the Nebraska native is an independent contractor with Omaha-based Meridian Clinic Research. Meridian partners with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to research new drugs, medical devices, and diagnostics. Founded in 1999 by CEO Nicole Osborn, Meridian has become a trusted name in clinical research. 

Dr. Harper was a principal investigators for Pfizer and Novavax coronavirus vaccine studies in Norfolk, and a sub-investigator for the Moderna clinical trials. He said that during his five years with Meridian he has also studied a number of more ordinary — but equally vital — medications. 

"It’s a lot of fun and has been great for me, professionally," says Harper. "I’ve learned so much about research. A drug representative will visit YMC and start telling me about a new drug and sometimes I'll be able to tell them even more about that medication because I did the study!"

It is a busy time for clinical research. But things are also busy at YMC, where Dr. Harper maintains a full schedule of patients, including a large geriatric population. He rounds on five nursing homes in the area. To accommodate his Meridian work, he often devotes lunch hours and occasional Saturdays to seeing study participants and reviewing their charts at Meridian’s Norfolk office.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine research, Dr. Harper recently wrapped up a diabetes drug study. He is currently involved in the study of a new Holter monitor for atrial fibrillation and will begin researching a new treatment for migraines. He also expects to start another vaccine study soon.

"Several times a week, I'll get an email saying something like, 'Hey, there's a new diabetes drug'," Harper says. "The email will explain if it’s a Phase 1, 2, or 3 study and what type of patients they’re looking for. From there, I determine what studies may be a fit for our site and patients."

Although Norfolk is a town of only 25,000 people, Dr. Harper says it represents an important Midwestern demographic for companies that hire Meridian. 

"They want not only racial and ethnic diversity among study participants, but also cultural, economic, and geographic diversity," says Dr. Harper, who is one of two Meridian principal investigators in Norfolk. The second is an independent Ob/Gyn doctor.

"It definitely keeps your mind fresh and brings you back to thinking about the underlying science," Harper says. "It also gives us the opportunity to expose our patients to some new care options. And, frankly, it's neat to say that one of our doctors was a primary researcher on this or that study, to be published, and to have your name in journals."

Nebraska is one of seven states and the District of Columbia that have Meridian sites. Beyond Norfolk, Meridian also has locations in Grand Island, Hastings, Lincoln, and Omaha, Nebraska.