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Blockchain Applications in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Yali Friedman 7 March, 2018 | 5 min read

Blockchain based technologies will reach millions of lives

Blockchain is making its entry into healthcare and medical fields, and is being prepared for the potential ways in which an ingenious technology might transform the old ways of doing business. Researchers and entrepreneurs have already started pondering on the different uses of blockchain: Blockchain for Medicaid applicants; Blockchain for electronic medical records; Blockchain for payments and many more. Let’s explore a bit.

With the development of new drugs, filing of patents and funding of clinical trials, the interaction between Clinical Research Organization (CRO), pharma, investigators and patients clearly offers a wonderful opportunity for blockchain to enhance the current process. As a method of Proof of Work, User Validation and Smart Contracts, blockchain will bring about a huge change in the way how health care centers manage and record data, eventually providing transparency and security across all stakeholders.

Here are four emerging applications of blockchain in pharma.

1. Making Clinical Trials Faster, More Trusted and Effective

Getting a new drug to the market costs billions and takes approximately many years, with a huge part of that effort is devoted to clinical trials. These trials generate a lot of data that are shared among the internal teams of the pharmaceutical company and CROs and, finally with the FDA. As the number of people working on the trial increases, the intricacy of managing the trial grows and new challenges arise. Establishing that a new drug is safe and effective is not only a scientific challenge but a data challenge also. And blockchain represents a robust solution to ensure the integrity of the data of clinical trials right from scratch to the end.

The dangers of not ensuring data integrity are huge. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline had to pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its antidepressant drug for unapproved uses and not being able to report safety data about a top diabetes drug.

Leaving the fines behind, data integrity can accelerate the drug development and approval processes besides helping to convince the clinical world of patients and practitioners that a drug does what it’s supposed to do and does it effectively and safely.

Data volumes have increased significantly in pharmaceutical companies and it’s natural for errors to creep in when this information is inevitably shared. A high-performance, centralized data solution can speed up the clinical trial process. But a blockchain-powered data ledger solution could be even more effective. The technology can generate an improved level of trust among all concerned parties, allowing a significant boost in data transparency.

First, the technology ensures data integrity by the cryptographic validation of each and every transaction. This is important to ensure the sincerity of data-restricting, data falsification, data invention and also data “beautification.” Second, historicity and traceability of the data are among the root functionalities of blockchain-each transaction is time stamped. The information is transparent to all the users, with each owning a copy of the time-stamped data.

2. Improving Compliance and Traceability in Pharmaceutical Supply Chains

Even for such a huge and close monitored industry, major pharmaceutical companies still struggle with quality control. A major challenge in the industry is the assurance of the chemical composition of the drugs. Right from manufacturing flaws to sophisticated supply chain process, there are many elements that can impact why a given drug is poorly manufactured, entirely counterfeit or spoils in a shipment.

When a patient goes to a health care center, he’s putting his trust in the pharmacist or physician, who is providing or prescribing the drug. What’s concerning is that both the physician and pharmacist aren’t totally sure where the drug is coming from. They absolutely trust the fact that the drug that was delivered lives up to its promises-but that’s not always the case.

Almost every entity involved in the shipping process of a drug has no certain idea of where a specific shipment is exactly coming from. They trust that the group in the chain one level before them has carried out their duties appropriately and that the products were not mishandled or switched before they were handed over to the distributor. However, in some cases, ingredients are sourced from a particular nation using fillers instead of the originally approved chemical. Adding to the woes, the systems that are in place can longer stand up against the threat that accompanies the steps involved in the supply chain.

With blockchain technology, all these processes can be automated, so there are triggers to notify personnel when a drug reaches an “out of bounds” zone. These might appear like tiny adjustments, but in the grand scheme of big pharma, these tiny fixes can end up having a huge impact.

Blockchain technology cannot only validate where the shipment is coming from and validate their authenticity, it can also assist to steward the products from one destination to the other efficiently and effectively. And finally, since all of the checkpoints and processes are being monitored on the blockchain, it becomes possible to sift through huge amounts of data to make informed business decisions and identify bothersome parts of a process.

Daleiden, a member of The Center for Supply Chain Studies blockchain committee, says that the team is trying to find out the possibilities for the type of data to be fed into a blockchain node and then see what the tradeoffs are. He adds that all information related to the products and its traceability could be fed in the supply chain so that only trustworthy data would go into the blockchain.

A survey of 120 life sciences executives conducted by Pistoia Alliance in June 2017 found that 83% anticipated the technology to be adopted within five years.

3. Creating Smart Contracts

One of biggest breakthroughs in blockchain technology is creating smart contracts, which establishes a machine-to-machine network for rapid transactions and communication. A smart contract can assist health care centers to send invoices to patients and have them process immediately instead of going through a protracted intermediary.

The same technique can be used to send patient health data without any apprehension of it being compromised. Any data sent on blockchain goes on permanent record. Thanks to the technology being a digital ledger. For example, when sending a prescription, both the medical facility and the patient can track its authenticity.

Blockchain will also become invaluable for order management in medical supplies. In cases of emergency, where a patient requires fast medical supplies, there won’t be a middlemen involved to slow down things.

Robomed Network is a virtual medical network that offers smart contracts for patients and is managed by a blockchain token. The system allows improved methods for patients to interact with healthcare providers on sharing medical information besides paying bills. Patient-focused medical networks like this may be new to the industry, but they will snowball after Robomed proves its worth.

4. Proof-of-Adherence

Studies in mobile health on management of serious ailments and medication through apps have shed light on smartphone-enabled adherence programs. The sole agenda of these programs is to develop a self-management structure for patients that guide them to take just the required level of dosage depending on their physiological data. Such programs are turning out to be pretty productive-if patients don’t experience severe side-effects, they exhibit high-levels of adherence towards the drug.

A majority of these programs are powered by text messages or through server-client mobile apps. When a patient goes through these programs, a huge amount of data on patient behavior gets automatically recorded. The generated information is further perused to device the ultimate practices and patterns. By using this method, some of the labor intensive processes can be partially automated or replaced based on suggestions made by intelligent agents reading a blockchain and creating an average baseline for each patient.

These intelligent bodies would be made available according to the demand and work for a given time span on a subscription basis, which would be powered by a certain deposit made by the administrator who are keeping an eye on the cohorts. Blockchain will be used as the infrastructure by this bot-economy in such a way that the intelligent bots can consume. Sophisticated bots will be used more often and in this way firms can build adaptive bots to provide recommendations to the administrator with the changes in data.

Summing Up

Blockchain based technologies will drive digital innovations that will reach millions of lives. A brilliant combination of smart contracts, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology will become the nervous system of our society, aiding us live longer and healthier lives.

Originally published on www.drugpatentwatch.com

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