Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Health Information Technology (aka Ali Health) has a new plan to work with a network of 65 drugstore chains in China, marking the latest step to get e-commerce drug sales flowing in the country.
The healthcare unit of online sales giant Alibaba ($BABA) said in April that it had dropped plans to integrate its pharmacy business into its health unit and sell drugs online, citing regulatory hurdles.
But China Daily reports that a new effort designed to get back into the game has been announced, though details of how prescription products would be handled remain unclear. China FDA has allowed Nasdaq-listed Jo-Jo Drugstores to offer a pilot program that allows doctors to consult via a video link to listen to patients' ailments and write prescriptions. But full online drug sales are banned.
The latest effort by Ali Health appears to be service-oriented for now, but with an eye on online drug sales.
"China Healthcare and Drug Pioneer Alliance is a network that aims to integrate value-added services like health consultation, chronic diseases management, and health insurance programs into the current platform of merely online drug retailing," Long Yan, deputy director of China Medical Pharmaceutical Material Association, said in announcing the tie-up, according to China Daily. "That provides unprecedented opportunity for online drug sales, which might help the government reshape the current drug distribution system."
China's healthcare policy-makers want to encourage competition in prescription drug sales to knock down costs. But China FDA has been cautious on concerns of quality and safety,
Ali Health also took a separate knock from the China FDA earlier this year after the regulator suspended the Product Identification, Authentication and Tracking System--known as PIATS--designed by the company after competitors claimed it gave an unfair sales advantage.