In this mini episode of the podcast recorded at HLTH in Las Vegas, Jack O’Brien speaks with Ramita Tandon, chief clinical trials officer at Walgreens, about how the company’s push to offer research opportunities at its pharmacies is panning out, particularly in the diversity of recruiting, and her plans to broaden the number of novel studies offered.

Note: The MM+M Podcast uses speech-recognition software to generate transcripts, which may contain errors. Please use the transcript as a tool but check the corresponding audio before quoting the podcast.

From Health 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the mm&m podcast.

I’m coming here live from the health conference in lovely Las Vegas. My name is Jack O’Brien. I’m the digital Health editor at mmm and I’m pleased to be joined today by my special guest Chief clinical trials officer Walgreens

Ramada Tandon. Hi, Jack

wanted to start there Walgreens last year announces that’s getting into the clinical trials game. I think a lot of people look at that and they say Walgreens a very well known player in the healthcare space going into an area that obviously has had a lot of renewed Focus given the covid pandemic and given the focus on clinical trials. What was the basis for that? Can you kind of walk us through Walgreens thinking on that front?

You know, I’ve spent a lot of time in this space. It’s been over 30 years in the clinical trial space and there’s been a tremendous issues around access Equity diversity around clinical trials, you know less than 5% of the US population participates in clinical trials and of those that participate 75% are Caucasian.

And despite all the technology in the advancements. We’re making we still are not bringing trials, you know more across this nation. So, you know bringing Walgreens into this clinical research ecosystem was an opportunity to Leverage The assets that we have in this organization the brand the trust, you know our footprint and use it as a vehicle to build the right Highway as we bring trials into these communities. And so that’s our why is to make sure that we can make trials more accessible more convenient and start tackling these issues not just talking about them because I’m at so many different conferences such as health and others but actually doing something about it and making trials more accessible

and when you talk about from accessible, I know that a lot of people talk about it from a cost standpoint or they talk about it from even just to trust aspect. There are certain communities that don’t necessarily trust the medical institutions that are in this country. What stands out to you most when it comes to that front because you talk about it being mostly Caucasian individuals participating and it’s

For a lack of maybe say interest from other communities. They just don’t have necessarily the ability or the invitation to come to these trials.

you diversify the clinical trial participation and part of it is, you know, there’s generally lack of awareness right if that less than 5% participate, that means the Lion’s Share of our nation don’t even know what a clinical trial is and those that that have some understanding think it’s scary because it’s some kind of lab or being a guinea pig so foundationally what’s important for us right now is to educate and Empower our communities to First understand what a clinical trial is and the benefit they’re participation has not just on themselves, but within the communities that they belong to and so, you know for us we’ve now we’re using our locations we’ve created clinical trials centers within our Pharmacy locations where patients can come in and

And first and foremost be educated and empowered about what a clinical trial is so they can walk in have a conversation with one of our clinical trials Specialists or with the pharmacist and to be able to have that dialogue number one. And once there’s that level of comfort we then they feel empowered to make that decision to participate in one of the trials that we have ongoing within our organization.

Gotcha and what if the results been of that so far, obviously it started in Midway through 2022. We’re here in October of 23 what has been the takeaway in terms of metrics or any sort of results that you can share with us.

Yeah, this is

What gets me excited for those that know me I’m all about, you know talk less and do more and when we launched the business, I was very focused on making sure that we as we got the trials completed we were going to be committed to the industry to be able to publish our results. You know our progress. How are we doing it? Are we, you know, are we doing what we’re saying we’re doing and so what’s been great in the last five case studies that we published out in the industry. We’ve surpassed all the diversity stats that are out there today that are published from the FDA. So, you know less than you know, two to three percent of African Americans participate 8% in the Latino, and we’re at the 50 to 60% mark

And what that shows is, you know Walgreens as a footprint are consumers are patients are representative of the US population. So as we work with Partners, we have the ability to bring trials and communities that they have never had access to

so with the five, you know case studies that we have today. We are surpassing right now all the diversity metrics and what’s even more important is that we’re making it accessible and we’re starting to really tackle the issues around Health Equity because as we bring these new novel research opportunities

It’s it’s a life-saving hope because some of our patients have been on treatment that may not be working and improving their health outcomes. Here’s an opportunity of another care option that we’re presenting to these patients and what’s exciting is as they go through this journey. We’re starting to see Good Health outcomes as a result of that

exactly you talk about those opportunities that maybe hadn’t been a forage them before and it’s actually able to have a meaningful Improvement on their outcomes. I’m really kind of curious if you can speak to I want to say the Skeptics but I think a lot of people do understand the virtues and the mission of Health Equity of saying we need to improve things that for years and decades have been plaguing the healthcare system in this country, but I’m I know that there are a lot of leaders who say you know, where do I start or maybe I don’t have the resources of a Walgreens to be able to put these things into action on the clinical trials level. What do you say to them in terms of like here’s where you can start here meaningful steps that you can take to try and get to this outcome that we’re all trying to go.

That’s a great question, you know, as we start to partner with a number of members in the ecosystem because we say look we can’t do this alone.

It is going to require, you know, non-traditional Partnerships and just Partnerships across the board to unlock the conversations in the dialogue between a provider whether it’s a physician whether it’s a nurse or a pharmacist and having that conversation with the patient about a clinical trial that is the one step that has to be taken for people to feel comfortable first on what a clinical trial is and if there’s misconceptions and fears particularly some of the historical atrocities that have had with the number of you know, different patient populations and segments. It’s an opportunity to demystify some of those myths

And so that dialogue is number one step that needs to be taken at you know at any provider ecosystem or organization.

It’s such a key point you bring up and obviously our audience our primarily medical marketers. I know they’ve been trying to tackle the issue throughout the entire covid pandemic and even afterwards too of being able to say like you need to be able to trust these institutions and going back to the institution saying you need a better communicate with these patients because they have at sometimes very reasonable fears about you know, participating or what their health information is going to be and things of that nature. We’ve talked a lot about the past so far in this conversation in terms of what you have done with Walgreens looking to the Future. What is the goal what you know, if we were to have this conversation a year from now, what would be your ideal scenario for where Walgreens stands on the clinical trial front?

Yeah. That’s a great question. You know, we continue our Focus right now is you know bringing more trials into our locations across different disease areas. If you think about the primary care lead diseases like diabetes Cole and cancer screening, you know cancer day or at least cancer protection training so we want to tackle those big dis.

Areas, but then we look at the specialty disease areas that oncology, we know there’s a really complex and in clinical trials patient retention is a big issue. So as we start to partner with other members in the ecosystem like Healthcare Systems, here’s an opportunity where we start to bring the pharmacist and the provider The Physician together and start to create more of a symbiotic relationship between the pharmacist and the physician as they start to provide support for clinical trials and you’ll start to see more of that as we do more of these trials and start to partner with other entities in the ecosystem. I’m curious if there’s anything when you look

in terms and maybe room for improvement on the healthcare ecosystem. I know that we’ve talked a lot about what Walgreens is doing but across the board obviously you’ve talked about the push for diversification. Is there anything else that comes to mind in terms of saying like, hey, this is where we could be doing something better on the margins or

we maybe need a wholesale change on this front. That’s a great question. So, you know, it’s interesting because in the past and traditionally most times clinical trials are

On in certain, you know medical centers provider organizations and you know, the covid-19 pandemic really forced and put a spotlight that there needs to be more non-traditional thinking and Partnerships. So as we think about, you know Partnerships with Healthcare Systems, here’s an opportunity where you bring, you know Walgreens, it’s very heavily focused and Healthcare looking to deliver a healthcare services more locally and you bring Healthcare Systems together.

And start to create in a model that allows a win for the patient because a patient ultimately wants convenience and so for able to deliver a clinical trial that makes it more convenient for the patient but yet get their complex visits done at a healthcare system because they’ve got the relationship with the with the physician but then be able to get some of the maybe more low low complex visits at a Walgreens because it’s convenient to them. It’s a win-win because I’m not only can we keep that patient then we allow them to have a good experience along that way.

It’s so it’s so interesting here you talk about that because obviously there’s a lot of conversation. I hear around the consumerism aspect and Healthcare and need to change and actually adopt some of those expectations that people have when they go to retail centers, but Walgreens already has that they already have that experience with retails. They’re like, well if we can just translate that into some of these deeper Healthcare experiences there has to be so much room for opportunity for the company and for clinical trials, you know, by the way of that going forward.

Absolutely. I mean, you know clinical trials is part of the healthcare Continuum that we continue to build at Walgreens, you know, we again, like I said before we want clinical trials to be viewed as a care option and so, you know as we deliver Healthcare Services in our locations clinical trials is just one of those services that we can offer to our patients that walk in that need, you know, important life-saving therapies that that may not have been accessible to them before so they can come into a Walgreens get informed about a potential clinical trial and if they’re there for their screening or Diagnostics they’re there to also be able to learn about a clinical trial so it becomes a One-Stop shop. If you will we’re again it becomes convenient. It’s a healthcare destination for our patients that support them in their Journey. Well,

I imagine too from a business strategy aspect. It’s a little bit of a differentiator when you think of and I don’t have to name your competitors, you know who they are but like being will say, oh, yeah, we have all those same sort of services but we also have the clinical trial aspect. I imagine that’s a pretty key differentiator in the marketplace. Yeah,

you know certainly the landscape is quite busy.

But for us it’s about what we do best for the patients and communities that we serve today at Walgreens and you know, the more that we’re able to provide into our communities the Loyalty The Brand and the trust and the engagement that we have will continue and it’s sort of just continues to build from that perspective. So certainly it certainly helps in

having those good conversations with our consumers. I appreciate you going through everything that’s been on, you know, obviously the Walgreens side the business looking broader. Obviously, we’re sitting here in the media Village of the conference. You’ve been here for a little bit of time but, you know having wandered around the main floor and seeing all the different speakers and companies and ideas that are out here. What stands out most of you being at the health conference

the conversations around this non-traditional thinking non-traditional Partnerships that I’m hearing, you know, Healthcare systems are talking to payers payers or having conversations with you know, Arthur entities, that’s what’s needed if we’re going to really move the needle on some of these big issues.

The conversations with these non-traditional entities that have never partnered before need to be had and then I’m hearing about solutions that they’re looking to put in place, you know for clinical trials. We’ve just you know, we’re talking about the case studies. So it’s not just talk but putting you know in motion action and the impact and the value outcomes that we’re able to provide those are the conversations that I’m hearing and it’s exciting when you start to see some of those proof points out in the industry.

Exactly people don’t want to just hear about problems. They want to know how you fix the problems really have appreciated you being on the podcast here. We’ve been asking each of our guests kind of a hard left turn. We were talking about it offline beforehand people come to Vegas obviously for the conference, but they also come for everything else in Vegas has to offer. What are you most look forward to when you come to Vegas. I know you have future plans of coming to Vegas in terms of you know, the shows and the concerts that are out here.

Yeah. No, listen you choose here. So absolutely be able to take advantage of the concerts in the shows. But certainly I’ve got focus on the YouTube concert.

That’s actually well octane baby. And any other Joshua Tree whatever whatever your favorite is we go with that.

For me to really appreciate you being on the show appreciate you offering your insights and best of what going forward with all the clinical trial work.

Thanks for having me Jack. Take care.