Some Walgreens customers might soon get a new kind 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 pharmaceutical companies can hire Walgreens to help them find participants for clinical trials, which are used to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new potential types of medications and devices.
Walgreens plans to use its rosters of customers and patients to find those who may match a trial’s criteria, and then ask those people if they would like to participate, said Ramita Tandon, chief clinical trials officer at Walgreens.
As part of the new business, Walgreens may also help companies carry out clinical trials by conducting visits for participants at some of its stores, during which patients may fill out surveys or have blood taken, depending on the type of trial, Tandon said. It’s possible nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians or doctors could 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 so many different communities.
Including participants from diverse racial backgrounds has long been an issue in clinical trials. In the U.S., 75% of 32,000 participants in the trials of 53 new drugs approved in 2020 by the US Food and Drug Administration were white, according to FDA. Only 8% were Black, 6% were Asian, and 11% were Hispanic.
People from different backgrounds can react differently to some medications and devices, which is part of the reason it’s crucial to have trial participants from a variety of backgrounds, according to the FDA. Also, a lack of diverse participants may mean that people from certain racial and ethnic groups are not getting early access, through clinical trials, to drugs that could help them.
“The therapies that are coming out today are not very representative of the U.S. population,” Tandon said. “As we at Walgreens start to tap into our local communities, (we can) educate and empower these communities on the benefits of clinical trials. Not only are they participants in research, but this is yet another opportunity as a care option, (for) patients who may he exhausted other avenues in their care journey.”
She said Walgreens will be able to “mine the vast foundation of patients and consumers who come to our stores and pharmacies on a regular basis” to match potential participants to clinical trials.
Patient data will not be shared with pharmaceutical companies unless patients give consent to share it, and participation will be voluntary. Doctors will work with Walgreens to oversee the clinical trials, and Walgreens may be able to reach out to a patient’s primary care or specialty doctors if needed, Tandon said.
In recent years, Walgreens has been branching out to offer different types of services, including through partnerships with other companies that can get more customers into 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, up from an earlier goal of $2 billion a year by 2022, which the company has already reached.
In October, Walgreens announced 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, with many in medically underserved communities.
Walgreens also announced in October a majority investment in CareCentrix, a Connecticut-based company that coordinates home care for patients, including after they go home from 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.
The partnerships with CareCentrix and Shields are expected to help Walgreens in its new clinical trials business.
Earlier, Walgreens partnered with LabCorp to collect samples in stores from consumers for lab testing.
In the quarter of this year that ended Feb. 28, Walgreens reported adjusted earnings of $1.59 per share, beating expectations, and revenue climbed about 3% to $33.76 billion.
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