A leading UK-based contract research organisation (CRO) has highlighted Latin America's investment potential for clinical trials activity. The region's strengths include its growing population, a more stable economic outlook and a disease profile comparable to many major Western markets. In 2004, Mexico -- where rising chronic disease rates have accompanied improving life expectancy -- enrolled 38,000 clinical trial volunteers, representing a total investment of around US$65mn.

Industry sources have highlighted this opportunity for leading research-based firms, at a time when regional governments are boosting healthcare spending to unprecedented levels. Much of this is linked to efforts to end social inequalities, which have shaped the region's epidemiological trends in the past. Mexico has budgeted more than US$2bn for socialised insurance this year, and Brazil is also expanding its national reimbursement system.

Nevertheless, observers caution that R&D firms should remain mindful of their social role, both in ensuring that research is appropriate for local health needs and that new medicines are introduced to medical communities in the region. Meanwhile, some South American markets appear to be backsliding on regulatory reform, with some countries against the tide of steady improvement seen in recent years.