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Telehealth startup Ro partners with Pfizer to give its ED business a boost

January 24, 2020, 9:30 PM UTC

Telehealth startup Ro wants to set itself apart in the direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction (ED) market—and it’s hoping that a new partnership with Pfizer will provide the differentiator it craves.

Ro’s men’s health arm Roman and Pfizer subsidiary Greenstone have struck a deal that will allow the digital health firm to source all of the generic Viagra (or sildenafil citrate) it sells directly from Pfizer. Pfizer currently has the only FDA-approved authorized generic on the market. The goal is to assure quality control and supply chain transparency to Roman’s customers.

While Ro has launched multiple new digital health services over the past few years—including its Rory vertical which focuses on women’s health—its initial focus was on men’s health issues, especially ED. Like many of its competitors such as Hims & Hers, Roman has an online clinic and pharmacy meant to discreetly ship treatments directly to its customers.

Why does the Pfizer collaboration matter? It boils down to a matter of trust and transparency, Ro CEO Zachariah Reitano told Fortune.

“Normally, all drugs of the same active ingredients are perfectly interchangeable,” he said. “I compare it to buying coffee. You can buy coffee at two different places. All the coffee contains caffeine. But so many things go into making that cup of coffee that go into the quality of that product and experience.”

In other words, while sildenafil, the central active ingredient in Viagra, may be present in what many of these telehealth companies ship to their customers, the inactive ingredients and actual manufacturing process may vary significantly. It may also be difficult to track exactly where a consumer’s ED drugs are being made.

The Pfizer partnership, Reitano believes, should give Roman users some assurances on that front.

“By bringing transparency to this process, we’re allowing consumers to show what matters to them,” he said. “We’re also letting manufacturers see this matters.”

The exclusive supply deal also comes as telehealth companies face scrutiny from some in the medical community over direct-to-consumer sales of drugs.

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