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Healthcare platform will help source medicines for patients

By MENG FANBIN | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-29 09:21

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd plans to set up an online healthcare platform to help patients source medicines.

The e-commerce giant announced this week that it would roll out a service under Ali Health to solve the problem of finding prescription drugs for numerous ailments.

"This non-profit platform, known as the Global Drug Seeking Union, aims to help patients from China to find rare medicines through transparent and reliable channels," said Liang Sujuan, manager of the project.

"This will be the first information project of its kind in the world."

The decision will help Alibaba take another tentative step into the healthcare sector, Liang pointed out.

Plans are underway for the online platform to work with welfare organizations, medical institutions, such as hospitals and healthcare clinics, pharmaceutical companies, internet information applications and the media.

"Information asymmetry has long existed in the healthcare sector here," said Xie Fangmin, CEO of Jianke.com, an e-commerce pharmaceutical retailer.

"For instance, there are many drugs that can only be obtained in first-tier cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai."

Patients in China can find it difficult to source certain drugs depending on where they live in the country. In addition, drugs for rare diseases are usually limited.

"But this will be different from online retailers," Liang said. "The Global Drug Seeking Union will provide information about medicines over the counter and prescription drugs, including where you can get them, how much they cost and dosage instructions."

Ali Health also expects to provide information for domestic and multinational pharmaceutical companies.

"There might be times when raloxifene tablets (taken to reduce the amount of calcium lost from bones) are sold out in China," Liang said.

"So, we would inform Merker & Co, which produces the drug overseas, and they would be able to accelerate production."

Sinopharm Online, the Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Group and Bai Shop Pharmacy have shown interest in joining the project.

Last year, Ali Health set up a healthcare platform with Sinopharm Online.

This internet business was launched by the China National Pharmaceutical Group, the largest Chinese medical and healthcare company, in 2015.

Sinopharm Online has just finished its A-round of financing after receiving 120 million yuan ($17.7 million) capital from Yunfeng Capital and Shenglang Investment earlier this month.

"Although CNPG is the largest medicine retailer in China with about 50 percent market share, and Tmall Medicine (owned by Alibaba) is the largest e-commerce platform, we cannot meet the demand for certain medicines," said Liang.

Related institutions, including the National Health and Family Planning Commission, has just issued guidelines to help coordinate emergency production and imports of certain drugs.

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