The U.S. health-care supply and retail industry is folding in on itself amid pressure to cut costs and defend against outsiders, and a potential deal between Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. would take two major pieces off the table.

A Wall Street Journal report that the companies were in takeover talks sent AmerisourceBergen shares surging late Monday. The discussions are at an early stage and may not ultimately lead to a deal, the paper said, citing people it didn't identify.

If the companies agree to combine, it would be only the latest such move among firms that distribute, sell or administer health-care products and services. Last year, CVS Health Corp. agreed to pay $68 billion for insurer Aetna Inc., after both looked at other companies. More deals could follow: Insurer Humana Inc. and drug-plan administrator Express Scripts Holding Co. could be potential takeout targets, according to analysts. 

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