Alibaba Health Swallows Bitter Pill, as China Halts Drug-Monitoring System

February 23rd, 2016 | by

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s plans to corner one of the world’s fastest-growing medical markets by tracking and selling prescription drugs online appear to be backfiring. Shares in the e-commerce company’s flagship health-care unit, Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd., fell 14% in Hong Kong trading on Monday after Chinese officials suspended a government-owned drug-monitoring system that the unit created and operated. China’s Food and Drug Administration owns the system as a means to track drugs’ regulatory, manufacturing, composition and expiration data. Yet, facing pharmaceutical-industry complaints about Alibaba’s role in the system, the FDA said it would suspend the program while drafting changes to drug-tracking rules. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)

药品电子监管系统叫停 阿里健康吞下苦果

来源:华尔街日报 2016-02-23

核心提示:阿里巴巴集团(Alibaba Group, BABA)通过在线追踪及销售处方药来垄断中国药品市场的计划似乎产生了适得其反的结果。阿里巴巴集团旗下的旗舰医疗保健子公司阿里健康信息技术有限公司(Alibaba Health Information Technology Ltd, 0241.HK, 简称:阿里健康)的股价周一在香港股市暴跌14%,原因是中国政府暂停了一个政府所有的药品监管系统,这个系统是由阿里健康创建并运营的。中国国家食品药品监督管理总局拥有这套系统,利用它追踪药品的监管、制造、成分及有效期等信息。但由于阿里巴巴在该系统中的角色受到制药行业的诟病,国家食品药品监督管理总局表示,由于要对《药品经营质量管理规范》有关药品电子监管内容修订公开征求意见,决定暂停该系统的运行。

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阿里健康成立于2014年。当时,阿里巴巴和云峰基金(Yunfeng Capital Ltd.)收购了一家鲜为人知的医药产品数据公司中信21世纪(Citic 21CN) 54%的股权,并将其更名为阿里健康。阿里健康接管了阿里巴巴的非处方药在线销售业务,并推出了将病人与社区医生及医院连接起来的应用软件。云峰基金是阿里巴巴创始人马云(Jack Ma)设立的私募股权基金。



阿里巴巴发言人Rico Ngai对公司与药监局之间的问题不予置评,只提到阿里健康周日向香港交易所提交的一份声明。阿里健康在声明中指出,公司将与监管机构密切合作以解决问题,公司尚未掌握充足的信息,因而还不能对药监局上述举措的影响做出评估。阿里健康表示,在截至2015年3月31日财年中,公司实现收入3,700万港元(约合480万美元),几乎所有收入都来自这一追踪系统。阿里健康表示,它只负责运营这套数据追踪系统,系统的所有方为药监局。


医疗卫生领域的专家表示,中国药品监管机构的目的是建立一个电子监管码系统,让消费者能够查询网售医疗商品的真伪。咨询机构艾意凯咨询(L.E.K. Consulting)驻上海合伙人陈玮(Helen Chen)表示,这本来是让中国处方药这一利润丰厚的行业实现网络销售、并解决假药等业内难题而迈出的第一步。

中国药品监管机构与阿里健康之间的合作吸引了养天和集团(Yontinhe Group)等竞争对手的关注。养天和集团是位于中国湖南省的一家连锁药店,该公司于1月份起诉国家食品药品监督管理总局,指控其给予阿里健康不公平的竞争优势,包括让阿里健康拥有中国生产的所有药品的大数据视图。养天和集团还抱怨称,国家食品药品监督管理总局强制要求药企参与药品电子监管码系统并为此付费,药企无法不参与。


中国监管机构也鼓励科技公司和医疗保健公司进行金融投资,这些公司已投入重金,尝试建立医疗数据库和其它在线健康企业。除了阿里巴巴,腾讯控股有限公司(Tencent Holdings Ltd., 0700.HK)等科技公司以及京东(, JD)等电商也都建立了健康平台,正等待政府批准他们在线销售药品。

Ali Health was launched in 2014 when Alibaba and Yunfeng Capital Ltd., a private-equity firm set up by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, bought a 54% stake in a little-known company called Citic 21CN, which managed pharmaceutical-products data. The new company took over Alibaba’s online sales of over-the-counter medicines and launched an app to put patients in touch with community doctors and hospitals.

Ali Health’s role in monitoring pharmaceuticals in China and ensuring drug safety is part of Alibaba’s positioning for a large share of the market should the country allow retailers to sell drugs online. Chinese sales of prescription drugs amounted to about $100 billion last year, according to consultancy Deloitte.

Ali Health has also held out the prospect of competition that could bring down prices of prescription drugs, a goal the government has championed. Prescription-drug sales would feed new business to Alipay, Alibaba’s online payment platform that works like PayPal in the U.S.

Alibaba spokesman Rico Ngai declined to comment on the company’s issues with China’s FDA, referring to Ali Health’s statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Sunday that it would work closely with regulators to resolve issues and that it doesn’t have sufficient information to gauge the impact of the suspension. Ali Health said the tracking system accounted for nearly all of its revenue of 37 million Hong Kong dollars (US$4.8 million) for the year ended March 31, 2015. It has said it operates the data tracker while China’s FDA owns it.

The company positioned itself as a potential panacea for a variety of problems in China’s ailing health-care sector, such as hospital overcrowding and an overreliance on drugs, health-care experts said. About 80% of hospital revenue in China’s mainland comes from drug sales, according to consultancy Bain & Co., which said the practice promotes corruption.

The tracking of drug distribution fits into Alibaba’s broader ambitions to become a major database for all business and consumer transactions. The company already uses big data—from merchant and consumer records—to determine credit scores for individuals and businesses, and tracks consumer behavior in areas as diverse as taxi rides, online bauble purchases and Internet dating.

Health experts said China’s drug watchdog aimed to create an electronic coding system for consumers to be able to check the authenticity of medical goods available online. It was meant to be a first step toward opening a lucrative industry for online sales of prescription drugs in China and addressing obstacles within the sector, such as counterfeits, said Helen Chen, a Shanghai-based partner at consultancy L.E.K. Consulting.

The cooperation between China’s drug watchdogs and Ali Health caught the attention of rivals such as Yontinhe Group, a pharmacy chain in the central province of Hunan that sued the Chinese FDA in January, accusing it of giving Ali Health an unfair competitive edge, including a big-data view of all pharmaceuticals produced in China. Yontinhe also complained that China’s FDA was mandating participation and payment for the tracking, with no way to opt out.

Medicines are displayed on shelves at a pharmacy in Shanghai, China. ENLARGE Medicines are displayed on shelves at a pharmacy in Shanghai, China.

In response to the Yontinhe lawsuit, China’s FDA said in a written statement on Jan. 26 that it stood by the drug-monitoring system. Yet more recently it said it is listening to pharmaceutical retailers’ complaints and seeking comments from the broader community on how to change the drug-tracking system.

China’s regulators have encouraged financial investments from technology firms and health-care companies, which have poured cash into attempts to create health-care databases and other online health ventures. In addition to Alibaba, tech companies including Tencent Holdings Ltd. and e-commerce retailer Inc. have set up health platforms, awaiting government approval for drug sales online.

The suspension of Ali Health’s drug tracker is the latest setback in Alibaba’s push to carve out a business of selling prescription drugs online. Last April, hospital administrators speaking at a health conference in Shanghai said they were setting up their own online platforms and encouraging other hospitals to follow suit to prevent Alibaba from siphoning off a significant revenue source.

Alibaba’s claim that its entry into online drug sales would benefit patients has met with skepticism. “Alibaba is not fighting on behalf of patients,” said Yin Yiqin, a technology head at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai, on the sidelines of the conference last year. “It’s fighting on behalf of Alibaba.”

In the city of Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province, where Ali Health began running a pilot program in 2014 to test out online sales and its Ali Health app, three of the five hospitals selected to participate had refused to work with Ali Health, according to Hong Kong-based research firm Gavekal Fathom China, saying the cooperation would harm their revenue.

There are also broader challenges to overcome. There is little evidence the government plans to address how or whether China’s insurance system will cover online sales of prescription drugs, Gavekal Fathom China said.

Ali Health said in its written statement Sunday that it will continue to develop its pharmaceutical e-commerce business and its medical-services unit.


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