Walgreens Launches Clinical Trial Business with Goal of Leveraging Consumer Data, Technology, and Nationwide Reach to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Drug Research
By partnering with drug manufacturers to connect customers with clinical trials, the retail pharmacy chain believes this new venture will be the company’s “next growth engine.”
Walgreens is launching a business to connect customers with clinical drug trials, a venture that adds another offering to the retail pharmacy giants’ growing menu of healthcare services. This new venture might also mean additional test orders for clinical laboratories and pathology groups in areas that serve Walgreens customers.
In “By 2027, Walgreens Wants 1,000 Primary Care Clinics,” Dark Daily’s sister publication, The Dark Report, reported on Walgreens’ goal of building 1,000 primary care clinics at its retail pharmacies by 2027, a move which mimics the rollout of CVS Pharmacy MinuteClinic and Walmart Health primary care clinics in their retail locations.
Now, Walgreens is attempting to further redefine the patient experience by partnering with pharmaceutical companies to find participants for clinical trials, a business that could result in more Americans from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations enrolling in drug-development trials. With 9,021 retail pharmacies in all 50 states, it is well-positioned to know which of its customers would be candidates for different clinical trials.
“Walgreens’ trusted community presence across the nation, combined with our enterprise-wide data and health capabilities, enables us to pioneer a comprehensive solution that makes health options, including clinical trials, more accessible, convenient and equitable,” said Ramita Tandon, Walgreens’ Chief Clinical Trials Officer, in a press release.
Ramita Tandon, Walgreens’ Chief Clinical Trials Officer, believes Walgreens can play a role in solving the issues of diversity and declining enrollment in clinical trials. “Through the launch of our clinical trials services, we can provide another offering for patients with complex or chronic conditions in their care journey, while helping sponsors advance treatment options for the diverse communities we serve,” she said in a press release. (Photo copyright: Walgreens.)
Serving the Socially Vulnerable
In an interview with Fierce Healthcare, Tandon described the clinical trials business as Walgreens’ “next growth engine” of consumer-centric healthcare solutions.
According to the company press release, “Walgreens is addressing access barriers through a compliant, validated and secure decentralized clinical trial platform built on a rigorous compliance and regulatory framework to ensure patient privacy and security. This approach leverages owned and partner digital and physical assets, including select Health Corner and Village Medical at Walgreens locations, to directly engage patients at home, virtually or in-person.”
Walgreens notes that more than half of its roughly 9,000 U.S.-based stores are in “socially vulnerable areas.”
According to the Washington Examiner, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study revealed that 75% of patients who participate in clinical trials are white, while just 11% are Hispanic and fewer than 10% are Asian or black. In addition, participation in clinical trials has been declining, with 80% of trials failing to attract enough participants on time.
Tandon maintains that making the process of participating in clinical trials easier is another key to increasing diversity and participation in clinical trials.
“During the clinical trial journey, we know it’s a burden for patients to visit sites. We also know that 78% of patient-consumers in the US live within five miles of a Walgreens,” she told PharmaVoice. “If a patient can complete much of the up-front clinical trial requirements at a local Walgreens, or conduct some of the visits digitally, it would make the whole clinical trial experience that much more positive and, maybe, encourage the patient to participate in new clinical trials going forward.”
Walgreens also plans to use its treasure-trove of customer data to find potential patients for its trials business.
“Understanding this detail of customer preference and segmentation can be quite useful particularly in clinical trials, for example, to create better protocols,” Tandon told PharmaVoice. “We are sitting on so much information, but we can, and need to, do a better job of using these insights in a real-world setting, which can be translated to pharma R/D or brand management organizations. We’re all about patient-centric drug development.”
FDA Seeks Diversity in Clinical Trails
Walgreens is in discussions with several drug manufacturers as it looks to launch this new venture.
“We are working very closely with them to understand their business needs and create the solution that’s going to be sort of bespoke to their specific trial needs,” Tandon told Fierce Healthcare. “Our goal is to move that needle and start to see a larger number of US patients participating and highly diverse participants that are coming into clinical trials.”
In April, an FDA press release announced new draft guidance aimed at “developing plans to enroll more participants from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations in the US into clinical trials.”
“Despite having a disproportionate burden for certain diseases, racial and ethnic minorities are frequently underrepresented in biomedical research,” the FDA stated. “Clinical trials provide a crucial base of evidence for evaluating whether a medical product is safe and effective; therefore, enrollment in clinical trials should reflect the diversity of the population that is ultimately going to use the treatment.”
Disintermediation of Retail Pharmacies
“Walgreens has a significant opportunity to create an interconnected healthcare ecosystem where we can use the physical assets of Walgreens and connect with patients and consumers at a local level to better support healthcare and healthcare equality,” Tandon said in PharmaVoice.
This is the latest example of a billion-dollar retail pharmacy chain diversifying away from simply filling prescriptions. Two types of competitors are driving the disintermediation of retail pharmacies because they end up directing patients away from the pharmacy:
- Amazon.com acquired PillPack and now sends, via mail, prescriptions to patients’ homes.
- Pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies with a business model that encourage patients to get 90 days of prescriptions at once, mailed to their home.
In both cases, retail pharmacies lose access to patients. This is what is motivating several national pharmacy chains to offer primary care within their retail pharmacies (where following an office visit with a general practitioner, the patient simply crosses the store to the pharmacy to fill his/her prescription), as well as the clinical trial matching business.
As retail pharmacy chains become an increasingly disruptive force in healthcare, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should be preparing new strategies to meet the testing needs of a changing primary care delivery model, which likely will include lab testing being offered in nontraditional medical locations.
—Andrea Downing Peck