Boehringer will use Walgreens trials unit for obesity trial


Walgreens’ plans to disrupt the clinical trials sector have taken a step forward with a high-profile partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim.

The German pharma group will tap into Walgreens’ network of community pharmacies to recruit patients for a large-scale trial involving people who are overweight, living with obesity, and/or have type 2 diabetes.

Media reports suggest that the study will involve Boehringer’s survodutide, a dual agonist of GLP-1 and glucagon, co-developed with Zealand Pharma, that is in a phase 3 programme in obesity and recently generated positive phase 2 data in metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH), a liver disease linked to overweight and diabetes.

Walgreens launched its clinical research business in 2022, aiming to tap into its reserves of patient data as well as the ability to identify and recruit patients for decentralised clinical trials (DCT) and conventional site-based studies across its retail network.

A key objective was to help sponsors improve the diversity and inclusivity of their studies, as Walgreens’ retail pharmacies are embedded in a broad spectrum of communities across the US.

In a joint statement, Walgreens and Boehringer said the partnership “aims to dismantle barriers, improve access, and address equitable health representation in clinical trials, especially among Black and Hispanic adults who are more likely to have obesity in the US and have historically been underrepresented.”

Since Walgreens entered the sector, it has signed dozens of deals with smaller companies, but Boehringer is the first big pharma group to be revealed as a client.

Boehringer’s head of medicine and regulatory affairs, Lennart Jungersten, said: “By bringing clinical trials into the heart of local communities, we’re making them more accessible, helping to provide access to diverse populations with pressing health needs to participate in our clinical trial.”

It is estimated that four out of five trials run in the US are unable to recruit their target number of patients on schedule, which is exacerbated by dropouts and can add to the cost of running the study. Around three-quarters of Americans live within five miles of a Walgreens, according to the company.

EmVenio mobile research unit
EmVenio mobile research unit

Boehringer meanwhile will also be working on the study with remote clinical trials specialist EmVenio Research, which runs a fleet of mobile research units that can go into hard-to-reach communities.

Walgreens' progress in the clinical research business contrasts with CVS Health, another big US retail grocery chain that made a foray into the sector in 2021 but said it was withdrawing two years later.

Two other big players – Walmart and Kroger – have also launched their own clinical trials businesses with similar business models.

Walmart’s ambitions in healthcare took a knock earlier this week when it announced plans to close down its national network of clinics providing low-cost care and telehealth services, although it is worth noting that trials business is based mainly around its retail pharmacies. It is still early for Kroger’s efforts, which got underway in earnest last year.