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Jack Shields scores big with Walgreens buyout

The drugstore giant is acquiring the rest of Shields Health Solutions in a deal that values the company at $4.2 billion.

The parent of the Walgreens drugstore chain is buying the 30 percent of Stoughton-based Shields Health Solutions that it doesn't already own.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

When Jack Shields founded his startup, the business model was a work in progress.

“I grinded away for almost a year,” said Shields, who stepped down as president of his family’s medical imaging company at the end of 2011 to launch Shields Health Solutions.

He settled on helping hospitals set up specialty pharmacies, challenging big drug distributors such as CVS Health and Cigna. Shields Health Solutions succeeded far beyond his expectations, and on Tuesday, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. said it would buy the 30 percent of the Stoughton company that it doesn’t already own for $1.37 billion.

The deal with the parent of the Walgreens drugstore chain values Shields Health Solutions at $4.2 billion. That’s up from about $2.5 billion a year ago when Walgreens Boots paid $970 million to increase its stake to about 70 percent.

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In addition to Jack Shields, equity owners include Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, a private equity firm that invested in the company in 2019 along with Walgreens Boots, dozens of Shields Health Solutions employees, some who started as $15-a-hour pharmacy technicians, and six health care systems.

In a statement, Walgreens Boots said Shields Health Solutions will remain a distinct business and brand. John Lucey, cofounder and president of Shields Health Solutions, will become chief executive. Lee Cooper, the chief executive who joined the company from Welsh Carson, will take a top executive role at Walgreens Boots.

Shields Health Solutions was among the first companies to work with hospitals to establish their own specialty pharmacies, focusing on treatment areas such as oncology, neurology, rheumatology, and diabetes where treatments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. In doing so, it took on the pharmacy benefit managers typically picked by patients’ insurers to supply the drugs.

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Unlike rival CVS or Cigna, Walgreens Boots doesn’t own a pharmacy benefit manager or health insurance company. Shields Health Solutions has set up specialty pharmacies for nearly 80 health systems representing about 1,000 hospitals nationwide.

Shields started the company after he spent two decades as president of Shields Health Care Group, the MRI company founded by his father. He started with a handful of employees; by the end of the year, the company will have 2,000 people on the payroll.

Shields said it wasn’t easy to leave the family business, but he knew early on Shields Health Solutions couldn’t just be a side venture.

“I knew I had to focus 100 percent,” he said.


Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.