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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Precision Healthcare

At the end of January, industry observers were brimming with speculation on the likely course of Amazon’s entry into healthcare. Championed by a corporation known for ‘disruptive innovation’ in the technology and retail sectors, this project promises to challenge the status quo in the world’s largest healthcare system that is characterised by a fragmented market, entrenched providers, dysfunctional incentives, and little consumer choice.

The manifesto of this bold project by Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire- Hathaway is both challenging and modest: “Our goal is to benefit [1.2 million] US employees and their families, and potentially all Americans.” In short, the goal is to remake the market for healthcare so it becomes integrated, transparent, equitable, and more affordable. Success would not be measured by immediate financial returns, but by long-term impact. Many analysts saw the venture as the opening gambit in online retail pharmacy. This has been the buzz since Amazon acquired Whole Foods Markets last year. Consumers will derive benefit from the online utility of Amazon, as Alibaba is already proving in China.

Amazon fields best-in-class e-commerce, distribution, fulfilment, and technology. In the industry press, the mantra was ‘bricks and clicks’, but in classic economic theory, such an enterprise could upend the supply chain by disintermediation, while using its purchasing power to lower costs to consumers and achieving dominance by sheer scale and reach. Consumer costs would certainly decrease by leveraging the existing customer base and Amazon skill sets.

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Emile Bellott is a member of the EBR Industry Advisory Board, a graduate of the Harvard Business School, US, a China watcher, and an industry consultant with experience in the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries.
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Emile Bellott
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