Clinical Trial Recruitment is Not Easy: CVS Learns the Hard Way
(Thursday, May 18, 2023)
Almost exactly 2 years after the launch of its clinical trial business in May 2021, CVS announced this week that it is shutting it down. While the company did not announce specific reasons for its decision, public information shows that the company was unable to successfully harness its access to tens of millions of patients nationwide for its clinical trial business. Patient access for recruitment into clinical trials is the most valuable tool for successful clinical trial support business. Traditionally, the clinics where the patients see their doctors are the primary location for recruitment to clinical trials. Such recruitment is highly dependent on the physicians and their staff manning the clinic. Most physicians consider clinical trials not to be their primary business and hence they allocate limited resources to the clinical trial operations which in turn leads to anemic trial recruitment and patient retention. It has been proposed that direct access to patients outside their clinics could address the above issue. The locations with the most access to patients are their pharmacies. Nationwide pharmacy service providers like CVS get millions of patient-visits every week, hence they are uniquely placed to market clinical trials to them. Which is what CVS planned to do when it announced its clinical trial services business. Walgreens, Walmart, and Kroger have announced similar clinical research programs since then. It seems CVS made the same mistake as that by the physicians who get in their first clinical trial looking at the dollar signs but not the hard work that goes into sustaining a clinical trial. CVS apparently treated the clinical trial business as another vertical of their core business without giving it the independent resources needed to build the clinical trial services from the ground up. And in two years, there have not been any major success stories to share, leading to the pharmacy giant bowing out of the business. Public data indicates that Walgreens, Walmart, and Kroger are similarly struggling. It is unfortunate as there is nothing wrong with the model, but the execution is abysmal. Patients need clinical trials just as much as the sponsors of the clinical trials. Clinics have not proven to be good partners for clinical trials as shown by less than 2-5% of the physicians in the US participating in clinical trials. With more than 95% of the patient population not having access to clinical trials, most patients do not have access to the free state-of-the-art experimental treatments available in clinical trials. CVS and others like it could have been that bridge between the patients and clinical trials. Unfortunately, the experiment seems to have failed.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC