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Walmart reportedly in talks to acquire PillPack

US retail giant Walmart is reportedly in talks to pay less than US$1 billion to acquire PillPack, an online pharmacy startup that in 2016 was valued at US$330 million.

The talks have been going on for months, but the acquisition is not a sealed deal and may not even happen, according to sources who spoke to CNBC, which first reported the story yesterday.

Two of the sources said Amazon had also expressed interest in the startup, but the report could not be confirmed. PillPack and Walmart declined to comment.

PillPack helps customers manage their medication by packaging pills by the dose and delivering them to customers’ homes on a monthly basis. It also offers 24/7 customer service.

The startup reported over US$100 million in revenue in 2017 and has raised US$118 million in funding from investors, including US pharmacy giant CVS and Menlo Ventures, since launching in 2013.

Don Zhao, co-founder and CEO of Azoya, a software provider that helps major Australian pharmacy retailers enter China, believes PillPack’s success has to do with its focus on tackling the traditional pain points of going to the pharmacy.

“PillPack, in this case, solves the problem that patients are not always following the prescription to get medicine from the pharmacy and take it on time. It’s all aimed at increasing the customer experience during the process,” he said, noting there is significant opportunity for disruption in the sector.

“The pharmacy industry is a large market with funds and potential. Many of these startups find a niche area and grow quickly, before being acquired by the leading market players,” he said.

Indeed, talk of PillPack’s acquisition comes as other major retailers move into the US healthcare market, where complex policies and skyrocketing costs present opportunities for companies that can offer simpler solutions and lower prices to customers.

CVS announced a US$69 billion deal to buy health insurer Aetna in December 2017, and Amazon earlier this year announced a joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co to cut healthcare costs for their US employees.

Reports surfaced last week that Walmart is also in early-stage talks to acquire or partner with Humana, a health insurer with a market capitalisation of US$37 billion.

If the Humana deal goes through, Walmart would become one of the largest health insurance companies in the US and could potentially expand its online and in-store pharmacy and retail clinic business.

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