06Jun

As scientists race to develop a vaccine and cure for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a remarkable collaboration has emerged among pharmaceutical and bioscience firms that in other times compete fiercely with each other.

Promoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation weeks before the virus was declared a pandemic, the initial 15 companies — Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Gilead among them — began sharing proprietary information about compounds that showed some promise. Now calling itself COVID R&D, the group has added additional members and prompted other bioscience and research groups into similar collaborative arrangements.

The Wall Street Journal detailed the story (subscription required) of the cooperation among pharmaceutical competitors in a commentary by Safi Bahcall.

It isn’t the first time pharmaceutical firms have come together, but the speed with which the collaboration developed, as well as the financial investment and the potential revenue sacrifice of marketing a successful vaccine or cure is what makes the arrangement so unusual.

It is, however, just one of the ways the pandemic is changing the industry.

In an article on the Association of Clinical Research Professionals’ blog, Noelle Gaskill, senior vice president in research operations at SignalPath, points to the speed at which COVID-19 related clinical trials were opened. The article says “she believes industry has an opportunity to make lasting changes inspired by seeing what worked so well to launch COVID-19 trials under pressure-filled conditions.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the clinical trial industry can move quickly when so inspired, Gaskill notes. ‘Now it’s time to use those lessons we learned’ to speed trial start-up in the future.”

Her comments echoed what speakers at a session of the association’s Virtual 2020 conference said. “It’s ironic, but this negative disruption is propelling vision and innovation,” said Leanne Madre, director of strategy with the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative.

While it’s far too soon to predict what lasting changes will be made, Karen Lindsley, with the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance, told attendees the future of clinical trials will be different. The clinical trials of last year are not the clinical trials of next year.”

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

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Green Key
Jun 6, 2023

Grocery Pharmacies Are Closing As Chains Take Over

As Big Pharma and the entire pharmaceutical sector generally transforms (see our previous articles), so too is the way consumers buy their drugs and fill prescriptions.

For the first time since grocers set-up pharmacies inside their markets, the number of these grocery pharmacies is

declining. The Wall Street Journal says hundreds of regional markets “are closing or selling pharmacy counters, which have been struggling as consumers make fewer trips to fill prescriptions and big drugstore chains tighten their grip on the U.S. market.”

Consolidation has concentrated market share in CVS and Walgreens, which together accounted for more than 40% of all prescription revenue in 2018. Together, the two operate more than 20,000 retail locations. In 2015, CVS acquired 1,672 in store pharmacies from Target. Last year, Walgreens broadened its partnership with the giant Kroger grocery chain spurring speculation it could buy the grocer’s 2,270 in-store pharmacies.

Consumer’s have also changed how they fill prescriptions, switching to mail order and buying in larger quantities, less often.

The Journal explained that smaller grocers don’t have the clout to negotiate higher reimbursement rates from insurers, nor do they have the amenities like nationwide networks and walk-in clinics that the largest chains do. Their pharmacies tend to operate at or below break-even, but served as a customer convenience.

“There is the benefit of having a pharmacy relative to the grocery-sale lift and the convenience factor of having both in the store, but the economics do not work,” Raley’s CEO Keith Knopf told The Journal.

With the closing of these grocery pharmacies comes the loss of jobs. Reporting on the update of the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook last fall, Drug Channels said jobs for pharmacists is projected to be flat through 2028. But jobs for retail pharmacists will decline by 11,000. Hospitals, outpatient care centers and home healthcare agencies will add pharmacist jobs as will mail order services.

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Green Key