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08/22/2022

Walgreens takes on clinical trial business with new chief

Ramita Tandon to lead Walgreens’ new clinical trial business and address diversity challenges.
Hannah Esper
Managing Editor
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In June, Walgreens announced its plans to launch its own clinical trial business. The goal? To redefine the patient experience and increase patient access and retention in drug development research.

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Ramita Tandon, chief clinical trials officer, Walgreens
Ramita Tandon, chief clinical trials officer, Walgreens

At the helm of the new business is Ramita Tandon, who has been building and leading high-performing clinical trial businesses and teams at companies such as Trip Health and ICON. Throughout her 25-year career in health care, Tandon has remained focused on finding innovative ways to partner with biopharmaceutical companies and uncover the patient voice to operate trials more effectively. 

Clinical trials don’t reflect America’s population. Twenty percent of drugs have a variation in responses across ethnic groups, yet 75% of clinical trial participants are white. And only 11% are Hispanic and fewer than 10% are Black and Asian, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

[Read more: Walgreens launches clinical trial business]

The chief clinical trials officer of the new Walgreens business shared with Drug Store News how her team will make clinical trials more accessible, convenient and equitable.

Drug Store News: How will you continue to break down barriers for diverse patient populations?
Ramita Tandon: I’m a firm believer that everyone should be educated, empowered and given an opportunity to access cutting-edge therapies that improve their health. However, today’s current clinical trials infrastructure and patient demographics are in crisis. We have an overwhelmingly white trial population in centralized zip codes at larger hospital systems and research centers that produce clinical data that may not be relevant to all patients. At Walgreens, we are looking to redefine the patient experience by making participation in clinical trials more accessible, convenient and equitable for the diverse communities we serve.

Clinical trials are not only a research path but also a way to get patients in underserved communities into the overall healthcare system. To do so, we have created the ideal blend of technology, personal connection and flexible care capabilities required to transform clinical trial delivery, with patient security and privacy at the forefront of everything we do. With more than half of Walgreens stores located in socially vulnerable areas, we have a responsibility to stand up and address persistent clinical trials disparities that keep so many of our friends, families and neighbors from being seen and cared for.

[Read more: Walgreens taps Min Cho as chief format concepts and design officer] 

DSN: How will the clinical trial business differ from others you’ve led in the past?
RT: Walgreens’ new clinical trial offering has the potential to forge the missing bond between the public and clinical research, allowing innovation to develop into medicines that inspire trust and improve outcomes. Walgreens is uniquely positioned to deliver flexible clinical trial options that engage patients and address barriers to clinical trial participation, particularly among underserved communities. 

With our community presence across the nation, combined with our enterprise-wide data and health solutions, including those enabled by Health Corners, Village Medical at Walgreens locations, AllianceRx Walgreens Pharmacy, CareCentrix and Shields Health Solutions, we can unlock a combination of in-person, virtual and hybrid clinical trial models at scale to meet patients where they are. This will no doubt help boost patient enrollment, engagement and retention in clinical studies as we offer patients a choice in how they want to participate in trials and promote clinical research as a promising care option. 

Also, when a trial ends, it doesn’t end for Walgreens. Our goal is to take trial participants, even after they’ve finished their obligations to a clinical trial, and continue their care coordination as part of our commitment for last-mile enablement.

“Because 70% of patients live more than two hours from the closest clinical research site, my team and I have such a tremendous and exciting opportunity to change the paradigm by creating a model that’s centered around the patient and their needs, instead of the clinic and the industry.”

DSN: What excites you most about leading this team and the new clinical trials business?
RT: There are so many structural and clinical barriers that serve as reasons why patients do not participate in research. Because 70% of patients live more than two hours from the closest clinical research site, my team and I have such a tremendous and exciting opportunity to change the paradigm by creating a model that’s centered around the patient and their needs, instead of the clinic and the industry. 

The newly expanded clinical trials business is another way Walgreens is building its next growth engine of consumer-centric healthcare solutions as we provide patients with complex or chronic conditions another care offering in their treatment journey. We not only want to provide innovative research options for trial patients, but also connect them to our suite of Walgreens pharmacy and healthcare services — prescriptions, vaccines, screenings and more.

DSN: Why is being an advocate for women’s equality important to you?
RT:  Despite a renewed push for gender equality in the life sciences, women remain starkly underrepresented in all roles, especially leadership roles. Men and women enter the workforce with advanced degrees in medicine and science at almost the same rate, but women then either drop out or hit a plateau in their careers. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, men make up 52% of the U.S. workforce, but 73% of the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, workforce. There have been gains made over the years, but there is much work yet to be done. My goal is to drive a more inclusive and diverse culture and mindset to ensure we drive more equity for women within our teams and leadership roles.

[Read more: Walgreens offering new round of pay hikes, bonuses, well-being initiatives]

This push for more equality in women’s rights is a passion of mine. Outside of work, I’m involved with organizations that offer lifesaving care, shelter and support to traumatized women and children living in poverty. Providing education to children can serve as a foundation that keeps their hopes alive, which is extremely important to me. I’m also an advocate for women’s equality. When I wrap up my career in life sciences, my hope is to become an international ambassador for education, health and women’s rights.

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