Walmart enters drug research industry to deliver ‘equitable healthcare’ to underserved communities

Retail giant Walmart has announced it is entering the drug research industry, launching the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute on Tuesday.

According to the retail chain, the efforts of the new program will be aimed at increasing “community access to healthcare research that may help lead to safer, higher quality and more equitable healthcare.”

This is only the latest stride in the Bentonville, Arkansas-based corporation’s foray into the medical field. Walmart has over 4,000 pharmacies across the United States and is listed as the fourth-largest retail pharmacy chain in the country.

Noting that  90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart, the company hopes to diversify clinical trial recruitment and help support underserved communities. According to a Walmart news release, the WHRI will initially be focused on the “inclusion in studies on treatments for chronic conditions and innovative treatments” of older adults, rural residents, women, and minority populations.

“At Walmart, we want to help ensure all our customers have access to high quality, affordable and convenient healthcare resources, including innovative research,” the retail chain’s Chief Medical Officer John Wigneswaran said. “We know our customers are interested in participating in healthcare research, but many have not had access until now. We are already making an impact for our customers and for medical research, by raising patient trust and engagement in their care.”

This new effort comes after the Food and Drug Administration released new draft guidance to the medical research industry prioritizing the inclusion of “underrepresented racial and ethnic populations in the U.S. into clinical trials.” According to the FDA, the medical research industry has long under-represented minority communities as their percentage of participation in clinical trials did not match their percentage of the population.

In order to implement the new guidelines, Walmart will be partnering with pharmaceutical companies, research labs, and medical centers on trials of new treatments. The research will be aimed at the start on treatments for asthma, heart disease, and diabetes. This continues, according to Walmart, an ongoing commitment by the corporation to providing access to underrepresented populations and their cohort. This is best evinced by its $4 generic drug program and its low-cost private-label insulin, and the services provided by Walmart Healthcare Centers and Vision Centers.

“Walmart’s research initiative aligns with North Carolina A&T’s strategic plans to further expand its local, regional and national community engagement activities in order to reduce social, economic and health disparities within African American populations,” Dr. Raymond Samuel, professor of North Carolina A&T State University said, praising the move.

According to the website news release, the superstore’s newly minted WHRI is already surpassing industry standards with three times the industry benchmark for successful referral rates.

“The efforts by Walmart in research are innovative and impactful – it is clear that the intention behind their foray into this space is to genuinely make a difference for patients of all ages, race and gender in their ability to access research,” said Bill Hawkins, Chairman of the Board, Duke University Health. “This initiative will support individual patient health as well as the health of numerous communities home to Walmart stores.”

This only strengthens the marriage between big businesses, the pharmaceutical industry, and the government. Rivals Walgreens and CVS have also started patient recruitment programs within the last year. The latter partnered with the U.S. government tracking Covid variants and Pfizer analyzing the long-term effects of covid. Online behemoth Amazon launched a pharmacy in 2020.


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