During the Covid-19 pandemic, innovation in vaccines and medicines moved at an unprecedented pace. And that innovation required recruiting large numbers of people into clinical trials at rates that hadn’t been seen before. CVS Health, the corporate parent of the pharmacy chain that also owns insurance giant Aetna and other industries, helped leverage its contacts to the task: the company interacted with over 300,000 volunteers for the Covid-19 vaccine trials by connecting them with studies in proximity to them.
Last month, the company announced that it was beginning a new clinical trial services business, with the goal to merge innovation and experience to improve on overall participant experience for an increase in retention as well as research effectiveness.
The company will continue work on trials for Covid therapeutics and vaccines, but it’s going to move beyond that into other therapeutics as well by working with some of the top pharmaceutical biotech companies, says Dr. Owen Garrick, Vice President of Clinical Trial Delivery at CVS Health Clinical Trial Services. Since making the announcement, the company has been approached by prospective partners and are looking to utilize the pre-existing relationships with other companies.
“You’re able to tell that these drugs work in certain populations because those populations are in fact in those clinical trials,” Garrick says.
To assist with patient recruitment, CVS Health looks toward leveraging the trusted relationships it has built with their patients to be able to inform them of any developments being made. Part of that is simply the company’s ability to promote awareness of clinical trials – a report from the National Institutes of Health found that 75% of patients would be inclined to take part in clinical trials had they known they were an option at the time of diagnosis, but often aren’t aware of them.
“It’s not just the ability to give facts but also the ability to be a trusted partner,” Garrick says. “The recipient that is hearing those facts from believes them, accepts them, is able to question, push back on them and have a good conversation around that.”
Utilizing both telehealth appointments or home visits, CVS Health is working on decentralized clinical trials so they reach a “majority of the US population.” With its hundreds of CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic the country, the company can help assure its pharmaceutical company customers that its clinical trials will be more accessible and convenient for patients, which can help the crucial issue of ensuring that patients actually stick with the trials.
That last point is a big one, because a report highlighted by the company found that 30% of patients who start a clinical trial won’t finish them. “Retention and your continued participation in a study is critical,” says Garrick.
Aside from retention, the company is also looking at improving the diversity of clinical trials due to its national reach. Some of the barriers preventing people of color from participating in these trials range from lack of trust to financial issues to awareness. In order to overcome these health disparities, having diverse clinical trials that represent the population of regions – such as the US – will lead to a better understanding of the efficacy, side-effects and more, according to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
“You’re able to tell that these drugs work in certain populations because those populations are in fact in those clinical trials,” Garrick says. “So the ability for us to think about that proactively versus reactively, I think, is going to be key in terms of solution sets that we bring to bear.”