May 21, 2020 - Economy

Ex-Juul CEO Kevin Burns in talks to join digital pharmacy Alto

illustration of chiseling a dollar sign into a pharmaceutical

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ex-Juul CEO Kevin Burns is in advanced talks to join SoftBank-backed digital pharmacy Alto, Axios has learned from multiple sources.

Why it matters: He'd be going from a company that was the scourge of public health officials to one that seeks to become an integral part of America's health care delivery system.

Résumé: Burns was a private equity executive with TPG Capital until leaving in 2014 to become president and COO of Greek yogurt company Chobani. He took over e-cigarette maker Juul in late 2017, before stepping down last September.

  • During his time at Juul, the company faced increased regulatory scrutiny and product bans. He also oversaw its sale of a 35% stake for $12.8 billion to Altria, which since has turned into an albatross around Altria's balance sheet.

Alto Pharmacy was founded in 2015 by Matt Gamache-Asselin, and operates as a digital drug distribution platform whose rivals include Amazon's PillPack.

  • It has raised around $350 million in venture capital, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund, Jackson Square Ventures, Greenoaks Capital Partners, Olive Tree Capital, and Zola Global. The SoftBank investment was tranched-out, with the second piece coming within the past few weeks.
  • Gamache-Asselin and Burns first began talking as part of a COO search, but one of the job titles now being discussed is co-CEO. A formal board vote is likely within days.

The bottom line: Alto is betting that Burns' operational value will outweigh any blowback the decision prompts from customers, partners and employees.

Go deeper: Altria lost $8.6 billion on its Juul investment in just 14 months

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