The parent company of the Walgreens drugstore chain said Tuesday it will invest $970 million for a controlling stake in Shields Health Solutions, a Stoughton company that works with hospitals to set up specialty pharmacies.
The deal will leave Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. with about 71 percent of Shields Health, the companies said in a statement, up from 23 percent. It values Shields Health, which was launched in 2012, at about $2.5 billion, and gives Walgreens Boots the option to buy the rest of the company in about two years.
In 2019, Walgreens Boots teamed up with private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe to buy about half of Shields Health for between $850 million and $900 million.
The company will operate independently from Walgreens Boots with existing senior management, including chief executive Lee Cooper, a former General Electric executive and operating partner at Welsh Carson who joined in June 2020. Founder and chairman Jack Shields and Welsh Carson will continue as shareholders.
Shields, 60, started the company after working for two decades as president of medical imaging company Shields Health Care Group, which was founded by his father.
The new company was among the first to work with hospitals to establish specialty pharmacies, focusing on treatment areas such as oncology, neurology, rheumatology, and diabetes.
Patients typically must buy specialty drugs, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, through a middleman picked by their insurer.
“That’s an old-fashioned model,” Shields said in an interview. “That’s fine for a basic medications. For complex diseases, you have to manage care holistically.”
Shields Health tries to simplify that by navigating the process for patients, often getting them their treatments before they leave the hospital. It also creates programs to coordinate patient care and assist with payments and appointments. It takes a 25 to 30 percent cut of the hospital-owned pharmacy’s revenue for its services.
Unlike rival CVS Health, Walgreens Boots doesn’t own its own drug distribution middleman, known as a pharmacy benefits manager, or health insurance company. With Shields Health, the company is pursuing an alternative strategy to expand into specialty drugs.
In January, Shields Health acquired ExceleraRx Corp., its main competitor. The company said it now partners with 70 health systems across the country and represents more than 1 million patients. Shields Health has nearly tripled its workforce to about 1,200 since Walgreens made its first investment. Revenue is running at around $2 billion a year.
With the backing of Walgreens Boots, Shields Health will look for opportunities to expand its services.
The companies expect the transaction, which requires regulatory approval, to be completed by the end of the year. Walgreens Boots will consolidate Shields Health’s financials with its own, with the deal projected to add modestly to earnings in the first full year.
Other investors in Shields Health will have the option to require Walgreens Boots to purchase the remainder of the equity. Walgreens Boots estimated that buying the remaining 29 percent of Shields Health would cost $1 billion to $1.25 billion.
Walgreens Boots was formed through the combination of US-based Walgreens and the UK’s Alliance Boots in 2016. The company, headquartered in Deerfield, Ill., has 9,000 Walgreens and Duane Reade stores in the United States and another 12,000 in Britain and other countries.