There is plenty of evidence and research which suggests that pharmacies are an excellent medium to engage clinical trial subjects. For example, pharmacy patient volumes are over five times that of primary and specialty care physicians, and 67% of the US population lives within 3 miles of some retail pharmacies. The pharmacy setting is also known to offer a level of trust and confidentiality with patients, which cannot be acquired through other media, such as television and billboards in non-medical settings. This article will discuss observations on how Merck is using Rite Aid pharmacy to engage patients via its Zostavax campaigns at local Rite-Aid Pharmacies, and how pharmacy placement can be applied towards clinical trial subject enrollment campaigns.
How Merck is Using Rite Aid Pharmacy
Merck is currently implementing promotional campaigns at Rite-Aid pharmacy by placing an information sheet at the pharmacy counter (Figure 1). According to discussions with Rite-Aid personnel, pharmacists have been trained to engage in conversations with patients about the shingles virus, and to promote Zostavax vaccine administration, should the patient express interest. Figure 2 demonstrates the information sheet, which encourages patients to engage their pharmacist in a conversation. Within a few weeks of implementing the campaign, this particular pharmacy vaccinated over 65 patients, according to discussions with Rite-Aid pharmacists.
Figure 1: Information Sheet Placement at Rite Aid Pharmacy
Figure 2: Zostavax Information Sheet
Who is Leveraging Pharmacies for Clinical Trials?
The aforementioned observation is in the form of a post marketing campaign. However, Novartis is the only sponsor that is planning to leverage Walgreens pharmacy to conduct clinical trials  and its model involves transforming pharmacies into clinical research centers. While there are concerns and limitations to this model, such as inadequate SOP infrastructures, non-specialized facility equipment, clinical trial phase, and indication type, Novartis’ initiatives may improve clinical trial enrollment (due to patient volumes) and retention rates (due to proximity to subjects’ homes).
How Sponsors can Leverage Pharmacy Placement for Clinical Trials
While Novartis’ pharmacy model is transformative and penetrates uncharted territory, sponsors can exercise less risky measures by leveraging pharmacy platforms to enhance clinical trial patient referrals to nearby study sites. Further, sponsors can implement highly targeted campaigns by conducting customized pharmacy database queries to identify prospective subjects, and optimizing their campaigns by selecting pharmacies with high patient volumes for particular indications.
From a referral campaign perspective, there are plenty of placement opportunities in pharmacies to engage subjects (Figure 3). Moreover, pharmacies offer the advantage of a patient-pharmacist dialogue, which has been proven to enhance patient interest and participation in clinical trials .
Figure 3: Opportunities for Clinical Trial Campaign Placement in Pharmacies
Pharmacies: A Hidden Treasure
Retail pharmacies are a hidden treasure when it comes to driving results in clinical trial subject enrollment referrals, because study teams can not only identify pharmacies that engage targeted and high-volume patient populations, but they also offer a trusted medium for patients to engage healthcare professionals. Biopharmaceutical sponsors are starting to tap into the pharmacy medium for post marketing campaigns, so, why not take advantage of pharmacies in clinical research?
 Diane Simmons, Jill Chapped, Kenneth A. Getz et. Al. Are Pharmacists a Viable Channel for Education about Clinical Trial Participation?, Drug Information Journal, 2011 45:44