Across the country, a handful of universities has quietly gone into the drug-manufacturing business. Many offer lower-cost drugs and placebos, hoping to spark more „off-label‰ studies such as the discovery that Botox not only stops wrinkles but prevents migraines.

Conducting more studies allows researchers to investigate claims about alternative medicines, which are not overseen by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and encourages independently created products.

By making their own placebos, researchers get better quality control because patients are less likely to know when they‚re getting the real drug or the sugar pill. Some placebos cost almost as much as the active medicines to produce because the color, shape and markings must match exactly.

The nation‚s five university drug labs ˆ at Purdue, Iowa, Maryland, Kentucky and Temple ˆ must meet FDA requirements for facilities that make medicine for human consumption. The FDA oversees the labs and is supposed to inspect them every two years.

They fill a much-needed niche in the clinical-trial sphere, researchers say. When someone develops a drug, or wants to study a new use for a drug already on the market, the first trials use fewer than 100 patients and sometimes fewer than 10. The drugs and placebos are expensive, and small batches aren‚t always financially feasible.