Some Walgreens customers may soon receive a new type of message from the company, asking if they’d like to participate in a clinical trial.
Deerfield-based Walgreens announced Thursday that it plans to launch a clinical trials business, in which drug companies can contract with Walgreens to help them find participants for clinical trials, which are used to assess safety and efficacy. of potential new types of drugs and devices.
Walgreens plans to use its customer and patient lists to find those who may meet a trial’s criteria and then ask those people if they’d like to participate, said Ramita Tandon, director of clinical trials at Walgreens.
As part of the new business, Walgreens can also help companies run clinical trials by holding participant visits at some of its stores, during which patients can complete surveys or take blood samples, depending on the type of trial, he said. Tandon. Nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians or doctors may be able to help with those visits, depending on what’s needed, she said.
Walgreens leaders believe they can help companies get more clinical trial participants and a more diverse range of participants, because Walgreens has customers in many different communities.
The inclusion of participants from diverse racial backgrounds has long been a problem in clinical trials. In the US, 75% of the 32,000 participants in trials of 53 new drugs approved in 2020 by the US Food and Drug Administration were white, according to the FDA. Only 8% were black, 6% Asian, and 11% Hispanic.
People from different backgrounds may react differently to some drugs and devices, which is part of the reason it’s crucial to have trial participants from a variety of backgrounds, according to the FDA. In addition, the lack of diverse participants may mean that people of certain racial and ethnic groups do not have early access, through clinical trials, to drugs that could help them.
“Therapies that are emerging today are not very representative of the American population,” Tandon said. “As we at Walgreens begin to tap into our local communities, (we can) educate and empower these communities about the benefits of clinical trials. Not only are they research participants, but this is another opportunity as a care option, (for) patients who may have exhausted other avenues in their care process.”
She said Walgreens will be able to “tap into the vast base of patients and consumers who come into our stores and pharmacies on a regular basis” to match potential participants with clinical trials.
Patient data will not be shared with pharmaceutical companies unless patients consent to sharing, and participation will be voluntary. Physicians will work with Walgreens to oversee clinical trials, and Walgreens may contact a patient’s primary care physicians or specialists if necessary, Tandon said.
In recent years, Walgreens has branched out to offer different types of services, including through partnerships with other companies that can bring more customers to its stores and help it expand further into health care. The moves come even as the retail pharmacy chain continues to cut costs. Walgreens announced plans in October to try to cut $3.3 billion in costs by 2024, down from a previous goal of $2 billion a year by 2022, which the company has already met.
In October, Walgreens announced that it planned to invest $5.2 billion in Chicago-based VillageMD, which provides primary care to patients, and increase the number of Village Medical clinics in its stores, many of them in medically underserved communities.
Walgreens also announced in October a majority investment in CareCentrix, a Connecticut-based company that coordinates home care for patients, even after they leave the hospital. In September, Walgreens said it would invest $970 million in Massachusetts-based Shields Health Solutions, which is a company that helps hospitals and health systems with specialty pharmacy services.
Partnerships with CareCentrix and Shields are expected to help Walgreens in its new clinical trials business.
Walgreens previously partnered with LabCorp to collect samples at consumer stores for laboratory testing.
In this year’s quarter ended February 28, Walgreens reported adjusted earnings of $1.59 per share, beating expectations, and revenue rose about 3% to $33.76 billion.