Ghanaian health startup mPharma buys Vine Pharmacy to expand into the Uganda market and make drug affordable for sick people in Africa
mPharma, a Ghanaian health startup, announced today it has taken a controlling stake in another African tech startup Uganda’s Vine Pharmacy for an undisclosed amount, according to the news first reported by TechCrunch. The acquisition also marks the 8-year-old mPharma entry into its latest African market.
Founded in 2013 by CEO Gregory Rockson, James Finucane, and Daniel Shoukimas, the Accra, Ghana-based mPharma streamlines last-mile delivery of prescription drugs and makes them affordable in under-served markets. The startup currently operates in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
mPharma revealed to TechCrunch that it acquired a 55 percent stake in Vine Pharmacy previously held by the Abraaj Group, a private equity firm founded by Pakistani businessman Arif Naqvi and was based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Abraaj acquired Vine Pharmacy in 2013 when it was the largest pharmacy chain in Uganda. Abraaj Group later shut down in 2020 after investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sounded an alarm over the administration of its $1 billion healthcare fund.
In a statement, mPharma CEO Gregory Rockson told TechCrunch, “Vine used to be the biggest pharmacy chain in Uganda. At its peak, it had about 36 stores spread across the country. But with Abraaj as its largest shareholder, the business had to resize once there wasn’t any more capital available for growth. We are buying out the stake that Abraaj held.”
The drug supply chain in Africa is broken as pharmacies on the continent struggle to keep life-saving medicines in stock. At the same time, patients are often forced to pay prices three times what they would in a Western country for the same drugs, amidst rising disease rates.
By eliminating inefficiencies and taking ownership of the supply chain, mPharma is able to clean up the pipeline of drug procurement to make medicine accessible and affordable for sick people across the continent. “What we hope is that with our focus on bringing down the cost of drugs, there’ll be a systemic change where other actors will be forced to reduce their prices,” says founder Gregory Rockson.
Meanwhile, this is mPharma’s second major acquisition. In 2019, the startup acquired Kenya’s second-largest pharmacy chain Haltons to enter the East Africa regional market. The acquisition gave mPharma partly control ownership of the 20 Haltons stores split between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Since its inception eight years ago, mPharma has raised a total of $53.2M in funding over 12 rounds. Its latest funding was raised on May 26, 2020, from a Series C round. mPharma is also funded by 24 investors, with Daniel Vasella and DOMPE being the most recent investors.
“I can tell you Vine is a very profitable pharmacy chain. It’s been a family-owned business for almost 30 years, and so, we are really trying to use this moment to scale the business,” Rockson said. “It’s a really exciting time for us and fortunately, Uganda is an exciting market. It may be like five years behind Kenya, but we think it is ripe for innovation and disruption,” he added.
In 2015, mPharma was the first place winner of the WHS Startup Track that took place in Berlin, Germany. mPharma was selected from among 9 other incredible startups, themselves selected from a pool of over 70 applicants.
According to the information on its website, mPharma has “helped 400,000 patients make savings on high-quality medicines.”