By: Michael Megarit
The pharmaceutical industry is arguably one of the most important sectors in the world.
Not only can it save lives today, but it has the power to discover new drugs and procedures that will hopefully increase life expectancy.
However, in many regards, the pharmaceutical industry is still relying on legacy systems that are preventing it from reaching its full potential. Thankfully, new technologies such as Blockchain are accelerating the transition towards a more transparent and efficient model for healthcare providers and patients alike.
While Blockchain is synonymous with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, its real-world applications spread far beyond digital currencies. In fact, Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize nearly every imaginable sector, including the pharmaceutical industry.
In this article, we will present 5 ways that Blockchain technology benefit the pharmaceutical industry.
What is Blockchain technology?
Blockchain is an immutable ledger that cryptographically stores information in chronological order.
All of the information entered on a Blockchain is time-stamped and cannot be altered, deleted or otherwise manipulated. Indeed, a Blockchain can be fully decentralized, which means the data is stored on multiple devices, rather than a centralized system, which eliminates the possibility of data manipulation.
Each time an entry is made, the network’s nodes – independent computers that store copies of the entire ledger and verify that the new entry’s information is coherent with past entries – validate the new information and store it in chronological order.
Blockchain technology is revolutionizing how information is shared and stored.
1. Securing Drug Supply Chains
The first way Blockchain can benefit the pharmaceutical industry is by securing the entire drug supply chain.
From initial research and development, to mass marketing and prescriptions, a drug’s journey is long and arduous. It involves dozens – if not hundreds – of different parties interacting with one another and terabytes of information that need to be collected, stored, shared, analyzed, audited, and cross-examined for authenticity.
Traditionally, any given drug’s information is spread across multiple databases, some of which can be compromised, hacked, or simply made inaccessible by its owners. Thus, information is not always accessible and reliable.
The pharmaceutical supply chain is complex and involves multiple stakeholders who rely on the accuracy of information to make informed decisions.
Since Blockchain is immutable, the time stamped record of each transaction ensures accurate and reliable tracing and tracking. This makes it easy for any given party to verify a specific drug’s entire history. For example, authorized persons can access the execution and owner, time, location, and the identity of the stakeholders who were involved in a specific transaction or event.
This helps everyone involved confirm the authenticity, transparency, security, integrity, and origin of every drug and drug ingredient that is shipped to and from participating stakeholders at every stage of the process. If a drug is deemed faulty, the ingredients can be traced and the anomaly can be identified.
Additionally, Blockchain makes it very difficult for any participant to tamper with the time-stamped database. Thus, Blockchain has the potential to create an unassailable and immutable decentralized drug supply chain traceability system, which will increase trust and empower collaboration across the entire industry vertical.
2. Increase Data Accuracy
The second way Blockchain can benefit the pharmaceutical industry is by increasing data accuracy.
Traditionally, patient data is spread across multiple sources. This results in high fragmentation, which increases medical errors, misdiagnosis and ultimately decreases patient satisfaction and positive outcomes.
Access to accurate medical data is crucial for ensuring maximum efficiency and optimal outcomes.
By uniting all medical data in a single, immutable database, healthcare providers will be able to easily access all of a patient’s history. This will enhance efficiency and enable professionals to provide better care.
3. Enhancing Clinical Research
The third way Blockchain can benefit the pharmaceutical industry is by improving the way clinical trial data is handled, stored, and audited.
Clinical trials can be subject to controversy. Present processes open the possibility of mishandling and manipulating data. This alone creates doubt that can compromise the integrity of any clinical trials. If a ledger is immutable and stored across several repositories, regulators can audit the records without questioning the data’s legitimacy.
A clinical trail is a decade long process that requires a transparent data collection process to facilitate analysis and audits.
Since a Blockchain is immutable, the data cannot be changed by anyone. Further, a fully decentralized Blockchain makes it possible to collect data from disparate sources without compromising the quality of the results.
For example, a clinical trial could involve participants from different geographic regions, and the Blockchain would store the data reliably. In turn, this helps scientists and analysts achieve similar scientific results regardless of where the trials are held, or where the data is interpreted.
4. Research and Development
The fourth way Blockchain can benefit the pharmaceutical industry is by stimulating and improving fundamental research and development.
Drug discovery is an expensive and time consuming process. Blockchain has the potential to increase trust, streamline processes, lower operational costs, eliminate fraud, and harmonize data integration in a sharing-based model.
For example, the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) is a crucial aspect of drug development. At present, the process of filing for IP protection is complex and costly. In addition, the loss of data is a major risk that can cause significant losses of investments in new drugs.
Drug discovery is a very complex, costly, and time consuming process that can discourage manufacturers from investing in ambitious projects. Blockchain can help lower costs, which will stimulate investments.
Blockchain databases, such as the Blockchain-enabled Electronic Laboratory Note (ELN), have created digital ledgers that enable systematic, safe, and efficient storage of sensitive laboratory data. This means that there is no more conflict regarding who created the material and when they filed it, all while maintaining confidentiality, legality, security, and trust.
More generally, the Blockchain will facilitate data collection and sharing within and across organizations involved in fundamental research and development.
5. Reducing Counterfeit Drugs
The fifth major benefit of Blockchain for the pharmaceutical industry is the ability to virtually eliminate counterfeit drugs.
Counterfeit drugs are a major problem worldwide.
Since the Blockchain is an immutable ledger, it is very easy for stakeholders to verify the entire database. Thus, every product can be traced back to its origin. This helps law enforcement agencies conclusively establish the counterfeit nature of any given product. It will also help companies enforce their IP rights over unscrupulous competitors.
The Bottom Line
Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize how pharmaceutical companies handle, store, share, and audit data collected from disparate sources. The numerous real-world applications foreshadow a paradigm shift in how pharmaceutical databases are structured and manipulated. Indeed, the transparent and decentralized access to information maximizes the possibility of generating positive outcomes both for healthcare providers and patients alike.