NEW YORK: Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. took a 40 per cent stake in the leading retail-pharmacy network in China, boosting its investment in the country where an expanding middle-class consumer segment offers growth opportunities.

The US drugstore chain will invest $418 million in Sinopharm Holding Guoda Drugstores Co., a subsidiary of China National Accord Medicines Corp. that has operated retail pharmacies across China since 2004, Walgreens said in a statement Wednesday. The Deerfield, Illinois-based company, which has been present in the Asian country for about a decade, said it’s “well positioned” to provide expertise to Guoda and support its growth.

The deal is being forged as demand for medicines in the world’s second-biggest pharmaceutical market surges with an ageing population which faces rising rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. A growing middle-class segment is also increasingly able to afford more expensive drugs including innovative treatments.

“The emerging middle class is a fantastic favourable wind for the industry,” Stefano Pessina, chief executive officer of Walgreens, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday, speaking from a conference in Guangzhou. “The market is changing, the separation between prescriptions and delivery created opportunities.”

Shares of Walgreens rose 1.2 per cent in New York on Wednesday, paring the decline this year to 14 per cent. Sinopharm Group Co., the majority shareholder of Guoda’s owner China National Accord, rose as much as 4.5 per cent in Hong Kong on Thursday before paring gains to trade little changed at the midday break.