Alibaba, Astra to work together on health initiative

Another Internet giant is stepping into healthcare, with the decision by Alibaba Group to team up with AstraZeneca in an effort to improve health services in China, the U.K.-based drugmaker’s second-largest market.

Coming just days after a pledge by Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to collaborate on new approaches to their employees’ healthcare, the latest move highlights the enthusiasm for bringing the customer contact and data collection of online retail to the pharma industry.

Alibaba said consumers will be able to scan the health codes on the package of medicines, giving clients more medical information and enabling providers to improve disease management. The companies aim to serve more than 1 million patients in China this year.

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Employees and visitors pose for a photograph in front of signage for Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The specter of Amazon’s purchasing and distribution power sent shock waves through pharmacy-benefit managers’ and insurers’ shares earlier this week. Drugmakers, for their part, say e-commerce providers will help them bring useful information to customers, while tracking compliance with treatment regimens and measuring the benefits of medicines.

The technology offers the possibility to “demonstrate the value of our products from an outcomes viewpoint,” Astra Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said Thursday. “If you have cost-effective medicines, you’re in a good place.”

Astra will also use Alibaba’s artificial intelligence research to help diagnose metabolic disorders and other diseases.