I believe in capitalism. I believe in the fair and equitable exchange of goods and service at a fair price–and to as many customers as possible. I believe that you believe it, too.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that most clinical drug and consumer products trials leave out vast swathes of the population. “Participants in clinical trials should represent the patients that will use the medical products,” the Food and Drug Administration said. “This is often not the case—people from racial and ethnic minorities and other diverse groups are underrepresented in clinical research. This is a concern because people of different ages, races, and ethnicities may react differently to certain medical products.”
Retail pharmacy has entered the chat. Recently, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Health announced plans to help drug companies and research firms identify and recruit individuals to fill their clinical trials. Such trials were traditionally conducted through academia, medical centers and research clinics, but that model has shortcomings: Trials are not representative of the full customer pool, have challenges with recruitment and locations often are far from patients’ homes.
Retail pharmacy’s foray into clinical trial services is a good thing in many ways. There is an increased need by pharmaceutical companies to develop and bring new drugs and vaccines to market, plus retailers are more ubiquitous and have access to a more diverse pool of participants. But it does not solve all of the issues.
“Retail locations are probably not suitable for all types of clinical trials,” wrote Dawn Anderson, managing director, Deloitte Consulting. “A trial for a new drug to treat lung cancer or a rare disease would need to take place in a medical center. But a trial for a skin-cancer treatment or a drug to treat diabetes, asthma or hypertension might work well at a retail location. This strategy could help expand the locations where trials can take place, which could improve access for patients without negatively impacting traditional trial locations. It could help broaden the reach of clinical trials and make them more patient-centric.”
From a strictly business perspective, this makes total sense. Making sure that prescription medication, personal care products and OTC medications are safe and efficacious for all populations and a wider range of consumers also means higher sales and more profit. And who can argue with that?
Our cover story this month takes a deep dive into retail pharmacy’s entrance into the trials arena, exploring the issues and the challenge–and the potential benefit to the general public and the health care system.