BioPharma, Pharma

CVS joins the decentralized clinical trials movement with launch of new biz unit

CVS Health has launched a new clinical trials services business that will help drug companies and contract research organizations recruit clinical trial volunteers. The new business unit builds on work the pharmacy giant did last year, identifying and recruiting people for studies testing Covid-19 vaccines and medicines.

CVS store


Covid-19 whipsawed CVS Health, first cutting into the foot traffic that drives retail purchases at stores, then later boosting demand for its diagnostic tests. Along the way, the pandemic presented the pharmacy chain with an opportunity: helping the pharmaceutical industry find volunteers for clinical trials evaluating experimental Covid vaccines and medications. CVS is now building on that experience with the formation of a new clinical trial services business.

During the pandemic, CVS used digital models and screening techniques to engage with more than 300,000 people who met criteria for clinical trials. It employed these technologies to connect volunteers to studies close to where they live. Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS said its new clinical trial services business will work in a similar way, helping life science companies and contract research organizations (CROs) recruit patients for studies.

Patient recruitment for clinical trials is a longstanding challenge for the pharmaceutical and CRO industries. Companies have had a particularly difficult time recruiting study participants who reflect the diversity of the intended patient population for an experimental drug or medical device. CVS’s push into clinical trial recruitment comes as pharmaceutical companies and CROs accelerate their adoption of decentralized clinical trials, studies that don’t revolve around academic medical centers as clinical trial sites and instead reach study participants in their communities, even their homes.

Extending a clinical trial beyond the usual clinical trial site requires technological capabilities, some of which CVS brings to the table. The company said it will use analytics, along with its national and local reach, to engage with people and help them learn about the clinical trial opportunities that may be right for them. The company will also offer decentralized options that deliver late-stage clinical testing, and real-world evaluation of products at its more than 8,100 retail stores, in people’s homes, or virtually. CVS added that the evidence it gains will support retrospective and prospective studies assessing the impact of new drugs and devices in real-world settings.

CVS is familiar to most people as a pharmacy and its pharmacy services business is the company’s biggest segment, generating nearly $142 billion of the company’s $268 billion in 2020 revenue, according to its annual report. In the $91 billion retail and long term care business segment, sales at the front of the store (over the counter products medicines, health and beauty products, and personal care items) showed a marginal increase over 2019 figures. But other revenue in that segment rose 83.7%, a change the company attributed to an increase in Covid-19 diagnostic testing.

Though the clinical trial services business is new to CVS, it’s not the company’s first foray into clinical trials. Two years ago, the company began a clinical trial testing a hemodialysis device designed to enable patients to conduct the procedure in their homes rather than going to a dialysis center. In addition to safety features, the device was designed to be simple enough for patients to use at home. The study, which will test up to 70 participants, is still recruiting patients, according to clinical trial records.

CVS executives said that the company hopes its new business helps overcome the challenges of clinical trial participation, including low patient enrollment and the lack of diversity.

“Combining clinical trial expertise from across the CVS Health enterprise with our growing connection to the communities we serve, will help create a new clinical trial experience that works better for participants, health care providers, clinical research organizations and study sponsors,” Troyen Brennan, executive vice president and chief medical officer of CVS Health, said in a prepared statement.

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld, Getty Images