AstraZeneca links with Alibaba and Tencent in China push

FILE PHOTO: The logo of AstraZeneca is seen on medication packages in a pharmacy in London April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca has clinched two new deals with Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent as the British drugmaker steps up its drive to expand business in China.

China is now the world’s second-largest drugs market behind the United States and is a particular bright spot for AstraZeneca, accounting for 15 percent of its drug sales -- a far higher proportion than at other big pharmaceutical companies.

AstraZeneca’s sales in China grew 30 percent in the last quarter of 2017 and Chief Executive Pascal Soriot expects them to continue to increase at a “low-20s” percentage rate.

The new strategic partnership with Ali Health, a subsidiary company of Alibaba, aims to deliver new smart health services driven by the Internet and artificial intelligence to help patients find and stay on the right medicines.

The deal with Tencent, meanwhile, involves the development of online tracking systems to fight counterfeit medicines -- a common problem in China.

Both deals were announced on Friday, alongside AstraZeneca’s full-year results. [nL8N1PS1G6]

“Overall, these agreements will drive better health outcomes and ... better utilization of our drugs,” said Chief Executive Pascal Soriot.

The tech tie-ups come two months after AstraZeneca created a new drug development joint venture with a state-backed private equity fund in China, designed to help get new drugs to market more quickly. [nL8N1NW07Y]

AstraZeneca is in a strong position in China after recently having had five new products added to the National Reimbursement Drug List - Onglyza for diabetes, cancer drugs Iressa and Faslodex, heart medicine Brilinta and antipsychotic treatment Seroquel.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Keith Weir