The Expansion of Specialty Pharmacy Services at Walgreens

The Expansion of Specialty Pharmacy Services at Walgreens

Walgreens is taking a significant step by working directly with drugmakers to bring cell and gene therapies to U.S. patients. This move is part of a broader expansion of its specialty pharmacy services. The company is venturing into a new business unit dedicated to its specialty pharmacy segment, which includes the specialty pharmacy subsidiary AllianceRx. This unit will fall under its core U.S. retail pharmacy division. On the other hand, Shields Health Solutions, a subsidiary supporting health system-owned specialty pharmacies, will remain under Walgreens’s U.S. health-care division.

Specialty pharmacies have emerged as significant players in the U.S. health system, particularly as chronic diseases become more prevalent. These pharmacies provide medications that require extreme care in handling, storage, and distribution. The treatments offered are often for patients with chronic, rare, or complex conditions such as cancer, Crohn’s disease, and HIV. Additionally, specialty pharmacies offer counseling and financial assistance to support patients undergoing costly treatments.

Walgreens is making new investments to evolve its specialty pharmacy services. It will establish a newly licensed facility in Pittsburgh focused on services for cell and gene therapies. This 18,000-square-foot center will assist drugmakers and health-care providers in navigating the complex supply chain for these treatments and managing patient needs. The decision to offer cell and gene therapy services aligns with the increasing approvals of such drugs in the U.S. and the European Union over the past year.

Growth Potential of Cell and Gene Therapies

Cell and gene therapies are one-time, high-cost treatments that target a patient’s genetic source or cell to cure or significantly alter the course of a disease. Some health experts anticipate that these therapies could replace traditional lifelong treatments for managing chronic diseases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved seven cell and gene therapies last year, including the first gene therapies for sickle cell disease. The FDA foresees reviewing and approving between 10 and 20 cell and gene therapies annually by 2025.

Walgreens highlights its newly launched business unit as the largest independent provider of specialty pharmacy services, generating approximately $24 billion in revenue from the segment. Notably, Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy business operates independently of a pharmacy benefit manager, providing the flexibility to contract dynamically with any payer. This approach allows the company to partner directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers to facilitate products to market, including limited distribution drugs, and collaborate closely with providers to ensure a smooth treatment experience for patients.

Enhanced Patient Resources and Support

Under the new unit, patients of AllianceRx and Walgreens’s nearly 300 community-based pharmacies gain access to additional resources to enhance the expert care they receive from their specialty pharmacist. This includes collaboration with clinicians specializing in key diseases, nutritionists, and nurses. The company’s community-based specialty pharmacies, strategically located near medical office buildings and health systems, offer specialty drugs more efficiently than the industry average, along with services like injection training and side-effect management.

Walgreens boasts more than 1,500 specialty pharmacists, 5,000 patient-advocacy support team members, and dedicated specialty pharmacy teams. The company also provides a wide range of specialty drugs, including 240 “limited distribution” drugs that are exclusive to few specialty pharmacies. By expanding its specialty pharmacy services and directly engaging with drugmakers, Walgreens aims to improve access to innovative therapies and elevate the standard of care for patients with complex health conditions.

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