Australian retail pharmacy enters clinical trials market


Australian retail pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse has made a move into the clinical trials market with the help of virtual research organisation ObvioHealth.

The two companies say their partnership could unlock access to millions of customers across a network of more than 550 Chemist Warehouse retail locations in Australia and other countries, including New Zealand, Ireland, and China, as well as its online pharmacy channel.

The move comes against a backdrop of mixed success for other retail pharmacies trying to offer clinical trial services through their pharmacy networks, particularly in the US, where big players like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have all tried their luck in the last few years.

Walgreens, Walmart, and grocery chain Krogers are still running clinical trials businesses, but CVS recently said it is retreating from the sector, just two years after launching it to great fanfare in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What they all have in common is a desire to help trial sponsors tap into their network of bricks-and-mortar locations to help trial sponsors run decentralised clinical trials and improve recruitment rates, particularly of patient groups that are under-represented in studies.

ObvioHealth and Chemist Warehouse say they have learned from the experience of CVS and others, and will introduce multiple communication channels to enhance the participant experience and bring more accessibility to trials. Those will include in-store and online promotion, as well as Chemist Warehouse’s TV show and wellness magazine and newspaper editorial inserts.

The pharmacy chain also runs a telehealth service, called Instant Consult, that will be used by ObvioHealth to run studies that will require clinician assessments and reduce participant burden by eliminating the need for them to travel to in-clinic visits.

ObvioHealth’s platform revolves around ObvioGo, a cloud and mobile app-powered decentralised trial service that handles study design and management, data handling, and outcomes capture and assessment, drawing on artificial intelligence technologies designed to collect more accurate data from participants.

According to Chemist Warehouse’s co-founder and chairman Jack Gance, the partnership is a logical extension of the company’s current clinical services.

“Not only is this a win for trial sponsors, but also for the participants – our customers – who will have access to trials they never knew existed,” he said. “As a dependable health and wellness source, we are eager to educate our customers about new opportunities that might be relevant to their health.”

The two companies say Australia’s clinical trial industry is booming, fuelled by government incentives like R&D tax rebates and streamlined regulations, with a trial-per-capita rate that outstrips France, Germany, and the US, according to figures published recently in the Medical Journal of Australia.

“We’re excited to offer a solution to overcome their biggest roadblock – finding and enrolling the right patients,” said Ivan Jarry, ObvioHealth’s chief executive.

“Two of the biggest recruitment hurdles are awareness and convenience, and this partnership tackles both,” he added. “The ability to communicate trial opportunities to an audience in a place where they are likely to be receptive, coupled with telehealth services to reduce participant burden, makes sense all around.”