CVS Health Winding Down Clinical Trial Business

Pictured: CVS Health Headquarters/Courtesy of iSto

Pictured: CVS Health Headquarters/Courtesy of iSto

JHVEPhoto/Getty Images

Less than two years after announcing the launch of its clinical trial services business, CVS Health reported that it will shut down the division by the end of 2024.

Pictured: CVS Health Headquarters/Courtesy of iStock, JHVEPhoto

CVS Health is shuttering its clinical trial business two years after announcing the initiative, a spokesperson told BioSpace.

In an email, a CVS spokesperson said that the retail pharmacy chain will instead focus on assets that are “aligned with long-term priorities.” The company will phase out clinical trial services, with a complete exit expected by the end of 2024.

Steve Wimmer, vice president of partnerships at clinical trial recruitment firm 1nHealth, told BioSpace that the “pull-the-plug” decision seems shocking given that CVS got into the clinical trial space under two years ago. “Everything I knew indicated that they were growing and generating revenue,” he said.

Earlier this month, a CVS spokesperson told BioSpace that CVS Health Clinical Trial Services was generating a profit.

CVS Health launched its clinical trial services business in May 2021. The initiative pitched that it could provide clinical trial sponsors and CROs with a large patient pool to increase clinical trial participation, retention and diversify trial participation.

The program sought to achieve these goals through three parallel services: patient recruitment, real-world data collection and clinical trial delivery focused on a decentralized, digital technology-driven model.

Wimmer speculated that it may have been the clinical trial delivery service that CVS struggled with, as his understanding was that the patient recruitment and real-world data collection arms generated revenue for the company. He said he wondered why the company shut down all three services.

CVS is currently recruiting for five active clinical trials, including for narcolepsy, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the pharmacy’s website.

“We’ll work with our trial sponsors to ensure a smooth transition, as well as continuity of care and minimal disruption for patients,” a CVS spokesperson said. “In parallel, we’re working to support impacted colleagues and will provide career transition support for those unable to find another role within CVS Health.”

One of Many Pharmacies Getting into Clinical Trials

Competitors Walgreens and Walmart launched similar clinical trial business initiatives in 2022; Kroger followed in January.

These companies have espoused similar goals of expanding access to clinical trials and recruiting underrepresented participant populations. Walgreens, for example, announced last year that it would focus partly on bringing clinical trials to patients with a decentralized clinical trial platform.

Decentralized clinical trials were rapidly adopted throughout the biopharmaceutical industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimmer said. They’ve since grown in popularity. And earlier this month, the FDA released draft guidance supporting decentralized trials.

But while decentralized trials reach more extensive, diverse patient populations, Wimmer said the model comes with challenges.

“Fully decentralized models preclude a huge swath of possible research because of safety and regulatory concerns,” Wimmer said. It’s difficult to conduct such trials in a standardized manner.

Recently, CVS focused on building a vertically integrated healthcare business through targeted acquisitions in primary care, such as the MinuteClinic and home healthcare.

When it launched Clinical Trial Services, CVS said it planned to use its stores for Phase III or IV clinical trial activities. Wimmer said clinical trial delivery may have been more complex than CVS had initially anticipated.

“I think [CVS] may have imagined that a clinical study visit wouldn’t be that different from the primary care visits they already do. But for interventional, go-to-study trials, it’s not the same as a primary care visit,” he said.

Walgreens recently announced a partnership with biotech company Prothena to run an Alzheimer’s clinical trial, and a spokesperson told BioSpace that the company remains committed to running and expanding its clinical trials business.

“Walgreens will continue to operate and deliver high-quality services to our patients, partners, and clients,” the spokesperson said. “We remain fully committed to executing patient engagement and recruitment activities, activating clinical trial sites and establishing partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and other sponsors.”

Natalia Mesa is a freelance science writer based in Seattle. Reach her at natalia.mesa.v@gmail.com.

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