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Approximately 4,000 of Walmart’s stores are located in underserved areas of the U.S., and 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart — making it feasible for the retailer to identify patients for research. (Credit: Walmart Corporate, Wikimedia Commons)

Walmart is launching a new effort to address the alarming lack of racial, ethnic and gender diversity in clinical studies for medicines. 

The company said its new Walmart Healthcare Research Institute aims to include underrepresented groups such as older adults, rural residents, women and minority populations in clinical trials that too often overwhelmingly focus on white (and male) participants. According to Food and Drug Administration data, 75% of clinical trial participants in 2020 were white, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black and 6% were Asian.

Despite the shortfall of women and minorities, the drugs from these studies are sold to the general population — which leads to real problems, according to Scientific American. The symptoms that accompany chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes vary between different ethnic groups and sexes, so without representation in clinical trials, minority patients cannot be certain that the drugs will produce the same outcome.

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The FDA acknowledged earlier this year that racial and ethnic minorities are “frequently underrepresented in biomedical research” when outlining the government’s plan to increase health equity by enrolling more Americans from marginalized groups into clinical trials.

Approximately 4,000 of Walmart’s stores are located in underserved areas of the U.S., and 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart — making it feasible for the retailer to identify patients for research.

The Walmart Healthcare Research Institute is working with clinical research organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic medical centers such as CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting Services, and Laina Enterprises. 

“What we are trying to do is get individuals in the community adequately represented,” said Walmart’s chief medical officer, Dr. John Wigneswaran. “It’s really about health equity and access. We know our customers are interested in participating in healthcare research, but many have not had access until now.”

Walmart also made headlines last year after launching its own private brand insulin to help ease the financial burden for diabetes patients. And more than a decade ago, the retail giant rolled out hundreds of generic prescriptions for just $4. 

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