Not many industries had a banner year in 2020. One of the few that actually prospered during the pandemic was a relatively new and still niche business: digital pharmacies.
Online retailers of medicines such as digital pharmacies were well-positioned to take advantage of the new normal of lockdowns and social distancing. People who in the past walked or drove to their neighborhood pharmacy are now more than happy to use their smartphones to have their medicines delivered to their doorstep.
Besides having the advantage of not having to pay rent or own physical stores, digital pharmacies can be accessed around the clock and their services can be tailored more closely to their clients’ needs or preferences – without making them stand in line to hand in a prescription or pick up their medication.
Over the past few years, digital pharmacies have seen such an increase in sales that one study by Fortune Business Insights predicted that the global market for these online retailers could triple to more than US$150 billion by the year 2026.
Although electronic commerce has long been growing in Latin America and the Caribbean, digital pharmacies are a more recent trend. In many of its countries it is a highly regulated and atomized activity, but some entrepreneurs are already breaking paths in the region.
One of them is José Joaquín Mora, founder of Farmalisto, a Panama-based digital pharmacy that currently operates in Colombia, Mexico and, since more recently, Peru. In December 2020 Farmalisto received an US$8 million equity investment from IDB Invest, which was joined by the specialized health fund HBM Healthcare Investments and Morgan Rio Capital Management in a US$18 million capital raising round for the seven-year-old start-up.
Farmalisto plans to use the fresh capital to grow its present markets and to expand into other countries of Latin America. It will also strengthen its own innovation processes and develop new lines of business based on providing healthcare services at home.
Cristina Simón, Sectorial Expert of Social Infrastructure of IDB Invest, says that was one of the things that attracted them to Farmalisto. The company is looking to offer such services as radiology and chemotherapy to persons who have difficulties leaving their homes.
The development of “wearable” devices to track the vital signs of patients with chronic diseases and provide them medical advice and reminders about taking their medications is another area with huge potential. Farmalisto has already launched such a service under the brand Care24.
“Thanks to digitalization, this company can, for example, monitor patients with chronic diseases, which in my opinion will not only improve the quality of life for these patients, but also make health services more efficient. Farmalisto is a great example of what can be done in the health sector and I hope that this equity investment will be the first of many of its kind,” says Simón.
For his part, Farmalisto’s Mora says that working with IDB Invest offers his company more than just financial resources. “IDB Invest gives us a seal of guarantee, which allows us to open and lead new profitable business lines, correctly structured, while bearing in mind the social and environmental component in the different countries where we operate.”