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PillPack has big plans for future in Millyard

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 22. 2017 12:22AM
Joseph Lister pulls bottles of pills for orders at PillPack in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- Most companies would be happy with single-digit revenue growth every year - but not PillPack.

CEO TJ Parker seemed almost insulted when asked if he expected the company to double or triple its more than $100 million in annual revenues in the next five years.

"I think if we're double or triple in five years, we'll be pretty disappointed," Parker said inside the Waumbec Mill, where the company has spread over nearly the entire first floor and a portion of the second.

"I think there's an opportunity to grow much faster than that," he said last week.

PillPack - which landed on the Forbes Magazine list predicting the next billion-dollar startups - counts nearly 400 employees in the Millyard and more than 600 in all.

Parker said he expects to add to the Manchester workforce in the coming years.

"The intent today is to continue to grow in Manchester," said Parker, a second-generation pharmacist. "It's been a great place for us to build a business, and this is where we expect to be for some time."

Amid the exposed brick walls, workers help execute a concept that seems simple enough - package and ship pills in individual packets with specific times to take them. Humans and automated machines fill orders, which are checked by pharmacists before they are shipped out.

The approach isn't unique to just PillPack.

"CVS Pharmacy has a service that packages patients' eligible pill/capsule daily medications into a 30-day supply of convenient multi-dose packs," said CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot. "The packs are labeled morning, midday, evening and/or bedtime, depending on their prescriber's instructions, and are stored in an easy-to-use dispenser box."

CVS, which mails the packets to a patient's home or nearby CVS Pharmacy, offers the service in 17 states, including Massachusetts, but not New Hampshire.

"We are not licensed to provide them in New Hampshire yet," Lanctot said.

PillPack, which doesn't ship opioids, has partnered with insurer Aetna, which added PillPack to its national network of preferred pharmacies for 2017. Aetna Medicare members can fill covered prescriptions through PillPack at preferred pharmacy co-pay levels, according to a company announcement.

"We want our members to take the medications their doctors prescribe, and our goal is to make that as easy as possible," Nancy Cocozza, president of Aetna Medicare, said in a statement. "This is a customer-friendly, customer-focused service that we are delighted to bring to our members at no additional cost, as part of our preferred network for 2017."

Parker said Aetna is contacting some of its customers by mail or phone to get them to sign up with PillPack. If people stay on their medication, that means more money for PillPack and Aetna. "It's a win-win for both," Parker said.

Even after receiving $118 million in venture capital from several backers, PillPack expects to raise more funds to continue its growth, Parker said.

"We're investing heavily in the future," he said. "We're certainly profitable at the customer level, but we invested a ton both in infrastructure and continued growth, so we're purposely not intending to be profitable day-to-day today. That's the decision that we made, and we continue to re-evaluate as we scale the business."

The company already has rounded up tens of thousands of customers, who enrolled by phone or through online options. People are billed for their prescription co-pays for the drugs, which cost the same as at brick-and-mortar pharmacies, he said.

The median age of PillPack customer is in the mid-50s. On average, customers take seven medications each, including prescriptions, vitamin and over-the-counter medications. Some customers can take more than two dozen different medications, according to spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller.

The company settled into a mere 1,600 square feet at the Waumbec Mill in 2013. Today, it occupies about 100,000 square feet there, some of it available for future growth. PillPack also operates an advisory center in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as pharamacies in Miami, Brooklyn, and Austin, Texas. The Manchester pharmacy is the company's largest.

Chris Pickering, vice president of operations at PillPack, said the company's expansion displaced a handful of mill tenants, including a church that wanted to get out of its lease.

PillPack is quickly growing into one of the Millyard's largest employers, nearly catching up with Oracle, formerly Dyn, which employs 430, according to the state. PillPack's Somerville, Mass., office handles engineering, design, business operations and marketing.

The company employs about 350 pharmacy technicians in Manchester. By comparison, CVS counts 601 pharmacy techs around the state: 542 work for CVS Pharmacy and 59 work for Omnicare, a CVS Health company, in Londonderry.

Parker thinks his company can help make a dent against high medical costs.

"People that take three, five, 10 medications a day are driving the vast majority of broader health care costs, so if you want to be able to start to think about how do you restructure that entire industy and flow of money, that's the right place to start, and it just happens to be that there's more effective or better ways to find that customer and help them sign up," he said.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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