Kroger Health, the health care services arm of The Kroger Co., has taken on a new role with the launch of a network of clinical trial sites at selected pharmacies and retail clinics.
Kroger Co. pharmacies and The Little Clinic locations in the network will participate in clinical tests for pharmaceutical industry sponsors, contract research organizations and health systems, Cincinnati-based Kroger said Tuesday. Kroger’s first trial is already under way, with sites actively recruiting for colorectal cancer gut and immune health observation in collaboration with Persephone Biosciences, a San Diego-based synthetic biology firm developing microbiome-based medicines.
With 2,200 pharmacies and 226 clinics in 35 states serving more than 17 million customers annually, Kroger Health offers research opportunities “where customers live, work and eat,” Kroger noted. The company said 90% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a pharmacy, and 51% of all Kroger Co. stores are located in socially vulnerable areas—enabling Kroger Health to engage a wide range of the population in clinical trials.
And that swath of the population could become much bigger, as Kroger’s pending $24.6 billion deal to acquire Albertsons Cos. would create a food and drug retail behemoth with 4,996 stores and 3,972 pharmacies.
“With our team of more than 24,000 health care professionals, under the umbrella of America’s grocer, we are positioned at the nexus of food and health care, which provides us with the unique opportunity to increase accessibility to clinical trial opportunities,” Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said in a statement. “As a trusted community health care destination, we envision a future where our work transforms the clinical trial landscape and provides expanded trial access to the people we serve.”
Currently, Kroger Health and Persephone Biosciences, are recruiting trial participants for the Argonaut clinical study, aimed at identifying microbiome-based biomarkers for colorectal cancer. Starting in the Toledo, Ohio, area, Kroger pharmacies and The Little Clinic locations will initially enroll 55 people with a range of colorectal cancer risk levels to further the understanding of gut and immune health. Plans call for Kroger Health to enroll more participants and expand trial sites over the next year.
The study is based on evidence indicating that bacteria living in the gut may affect a person’s risk for colorectal cancer, according to Kroger. The data gathered from the trial will be used to develop personalized medicines and find cancer-specific indicators that could help guide future treatment and preventive strategies, such as utilizing “food as medicine,” or the idea that smarter dietary choices could foster better health.
In the Argonaut trial, digital tools, virtual care visits and personalized communication will be used to bolster patient retention. Kroger Health’s clinics, dietitians, pharmacy services and relationships with other health care organizations also will enable it to offer end-to-end clinical trial management within other preventive and therapeutic areas, the company said.
“Through our collaborations with health systems across the country, we can nimbly work to optimize the patient experience to improve health care delivery and maintain continuity of care while expanding the frontiers of care and treatment,” according to Jim Kirby, PharmD, chief commercial officer of Kroger Health. “This is the first of many clinical trial opportunities that will utilize us as an alternative to the traditional clinical trial and research organization model.”
Kroger Health has previously delved into the clinical research arena. Last April, the company unveiled research that supports its Food as Medicine preventive care approach to driving customer health and wellness. The Kroger Health-funded study with the University of Cincinnati—Supermarket and Web-based Intervention targeting Nutrition (SuperWIN)—found that promoting a heart-healthy diet via nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian improved diet quality and lowered cardiovascular risk. Kroger’s Food as Medicine platform is designed to help consumers make more nutritious food choices to drive overall well-being, prevent illness and aid people with chronic health conditions.