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AstraZeneca inks deals with Alibaba and Tencent in AI push

Pharmaceutical bigwig AstraZeneca hopes to deliver smart healthcare services and combat online sales of counterfeit drugs through tie-ups with Chinese tech giants

British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has teamed up with Chinese technology powerhouses Alibaba and Tencent to deliver smart healthcare services through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) in China.

For a start, the partnership with Alibaba will enable more than one million Chinese patients to learn more about disease prevention and healthcare services by scanning the AliHealth traceability code on drug packages this year.

And over the next three years, both companies will work together to boost the treatment of cancer and respiratory diseases, among other health conditions, according to Chinese news reports.

AliHealth, Alibaba’s healthcare arm, said it would also work with AstraZeneca to develop an AI-powered screening and diagnostic engine to help clinicians improve chronic disease management and diagnostics efficiency.

The partnership, which was inked during British prime minister Theresa May’s recent visit to Beijing and Shanghai, follows AstraZeneca’s recent move to turn its research and development outfit in China into a joint venture backed by a Chinese private equity fund.

“Both parties have a common vision to develop smart healthcare services through innovation and technology, optimise medical linkages and work together to build a ‘healthy China’,” said Wu Yongming, chairman of AliHealth, which is also working with research institutions to build a medical research data platform.

Harpreet Singh Buttar, transformational health industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan, said AI – already playing a critical role in other industries – will provide an added layer of decision support capable of helping mitigate oversights or errors in healthcare administration.

“By 2025, AI systems could be involved in everything from population health management, to digital avatars capable of answering specific patient queries,” Buttar added. “On a global scale, in regions with high underserved patient populations, AI is expected to play a significant role in democratisation of information and mitigating resource burdens.”

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Separately, AstraZeneca inked a deal with Tencent to combat online sales of counterfeit drugs, strengthen the protection of intellectual property and improve drug safety in China.

Prior to this partnership, Tencent, through its food and drug data analytics platform, had helped China’s food and drug administration crack down on imports of fake food products and counterfeit drugs worth over RMB80m (US$12.7m) in 2017.

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