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Walgreens plans tech-enabled startup

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Part of a series of investments to support its core business.

DEERFIELD, Ill.— Walgreens Boots Alliance has shifted into high gear since the start of 2021. Building on a foundation that it painstakingly laid in recent years, the company has unleashed a salvo of initiatives designed to buttress its central role in health care and retailing. Following the realignment of its partnership with AmerisourceBergen — a transaction that included the sale of the overseas Alliance Healthcare drug wholesaling business for some $6.5 billion, and the extension of distribution agreements in the U.S. and the U.K. — WBA wasted no time in stepping up investments to augment its core business.

Walgreens Exteriors in Chicago, Illinois

On the same day in early January that the AmerisourceBergen deal was announced, WBA unveiled plans to accelerate the rollout of VillageMD primary care clinics in Walgreens drug stores. WBA’s $1 billion equity investment in VillageMD will result in 600 to 700 clinics in over 30 markets within the next four years. Shortly after that move, WBA took a majority stake in iA, a pharmacy technology company, with the goal of creating automation solutions to benefit the entire industry. Yet another agreement, this one with Synchrony and Mastercard, will expand WBA’s financial services offerings to consumers with credit cards and a prepaid debit card.

During a presentation at this month’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Alex Gourlay, WBA’s co-chief operating officer, and chief financial officer James Kehoe examined the implications of those moves and made some additional news when they talked about a technology-enabled health care startup now taking shape within WBA. Expected to be formally launched in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, the stand-alone company within WBA will be charged with developing a patient-focused health care ecosystem that provides personalized solutions through an integrated omnichannel platform. By leveraging the company’s existing strengths, including ease of access, brand equity and trust, and neutrality in the health care markteplace — the new entity will work to improve health outcomes, enhance the consumer experience and lower costs.

Experience shows that achieving those goals won’t be easy. For proof of that one needs to look no further than the recent collapse of Haven, the joint venture established three years ago by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Time will tell if the WBA startup can succeed where Haven and so many others have fallen short, but its very existence is a sure sign that the company has a clearly defined mission, well-thought-out strategy and commitment to fostering the entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving that gives it the best chance of achieving its ambitious objectives.


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