Sanofi's latest digital foray starts with OTC home delivery in Latin America

Drugs by bicycle messenger? For Sanofi and new partner Rappi, the answer is yes. And they're looking at much more.

The French drugmaker has teamed up with the on-demand delivery startup Rappi in Latin America to get over-the-counter drugs to patients. But the duo are eyeing broader projects, too, including digital applications in pharma and beyond.

Rappi delivers food and groceries via its bicycle and motorcycle brigade, but it's also forging relationships with drugstores and pharmacies in building out its healthcare business. And Rappi looked to Sanofi for a partner to help it develop more strategically, as well as to learn about the opportunities and challenges in healthcare, said Paul Martingell, Sanofi's VP for consumer healthcare in Latin America.

Delivery service in the region is popular, not only for convenience's sake but also because of barriers to e-commerce. Only 10% of people in Latin America have a credit card to use for online payments. And the convenience factor is important in very large cities such as Mexico City and Sao Paolo, where people have to contend with traffic and pollution when they travel to the store or doctor.

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Martingell said the Rappi partnership can “help us get much closer to our consumer and help us break down those barriers. We (can) make the healthcare journey easier and simpler, and from our side, reach consumers whenever they are when they need us.”

While the partners will initially focus on OTC products, they'll also investigate future healthcare-related deliveries and digital applications such as online doctor appointments coupled with prescription delivery. The two will co-market the service as they build out the healthcare category and use collected data to identify trends—for instance, regions where a cold or flu outbreak might be surfacing, or days when allergy symptoms are peaking.

The new Sanofi and Rappi partnership adds to Sanofi’s roster of healthcare pilot projects with technology partners. They’ve invested in digital health partnerships in diabetes, for example, with joint venture Onduo with Verily and more recently with Verily and Sensile Medical. They're also pursuing digital projects in asthma with Mount Sinai Health System and advanced analytics firm Sema4.

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Sanofi isn’t alone in the pharma pursuit of digital partners. In an industrywide trend, pharma companies are looking for tech collaborators to create new digital therapeutic products, lines of business—or just experiment. That extends to healthcare delivery as well; AstraZeneca is another pharma looking at how digital healthcare delivery might work with pharma in a pilot with telemedicine app Babylon Health last year to look at how pharma can, or should, be involved in smartphone healthcare delivery and health tracking.