Chain Business Insights recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and
(IEEE’s) Pharma Supply Blockchain Forum, where a group of
pharmaceutical supply chain managers, as well as vendors, research analysts and
lawyers, came together to discuss the promise of blockchain technology and
their early experiments with it.
Here are the four top takeaways from the event:
1. Improved Transparency
Blockchain could improve visibility,
traceability, patient safety and regulatory compliance. The
technology has the potential to interconnect node systems that currently don’t
speak to each other well — whether they’re between trusted participants in a
supply chain or within an organization. As each drug passes from the
manufacturer, wholesaler and shipper to the pharmacy and the patient level, an
individual block of immutable data could be created, allowing product to be
tracked and traced.
Counterfeit medicines are a major problem in the healthcare system, one that
affects all parts of the global supply chain. No one knows the true scope of
the problem because it’s very difficult to measure this type of criminal
activity. In one high profile case from 2012, the FDA detected fake versions of the anti-cancer drug Avastin, which were made
from cornstarch and acetone. Blockchain applications could potentially unify
various technology formats, including barcode scanning and radio-frequency identification (RFID), creating a
shared, trustworthy, accountable and transparent data platform that could
advance anti-counterfeit activities.
Importantly, the technology could facilitate compliance with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) in
the U.S., which mandates a national track and trace system, and the Falsified Medicines Directive and Medi-Crime Convention in Europe.
2. Coming Change
Bridging solutions are coming
onto the market. Pharmaceutical companies have signed billions of
documents with their public key infrastructure (PKI) credentials and they want
to be able to access them from the blockchain.
Peer Ledger is a bridge solution that helps
them do that. The company’s CEO, Dawn Jutla, explained that the solution offers
compatible portal services for linked-identity creation, revocation,
delegation, application management, approval and asset verification services.
Users can sign and verify documents and other assets. They can approve workflow
stages with regulator and/or blockchain signatures linked to SAFE-BioPharma credentials.
3. Learning from Others
Pharmaceutical companies can
learn from proofs of concept (POCs) in other industries.
Like counterfeit medicines, food fraud is a significant
problem, especially in developing countries. Krishna Ratakonda, IBM fellow and
CTO of Blockchain Solutions, demonstrated how IBM and Walmart are using smart
contracts to track and trace mangoes and pork between China and the U.S., down
to individual pallets. Blockchain could replace archaic practices: some
companies still use ink stamps, for example. Further, it may be possible to
complement blockchains with machine learning to detect spoilage, for instance,
and to overlay various datasets such as weather forecasts.
4. Off the Sidelines
Dave Mahlum, AMGEN’s director of new innovation and technology,
said that blockchain projects are a “team sport” involving business and
technology partners. AMGEN breaks projects down into three phases: paper
analysis, POCs and early pilots. The company hasn’t spent too much time or
money on blockchain projects so far. It spends a few hours to build a team,
identify a problem and draw up a shortlist of vendors. A POC only takes about
two to four weeks.
Mahlum concluded that blockchain technology is going to
be transformational, but it’s not ready for primetime today. That said, he
warned his peers about remaining on the sidelines and encouraged them to stay
current with new developments and trends.
Developments in the pharma supply chain space (and the
aligned food supply chain area) are accelerating and major companies are
getting involved — as witnessed with IBM’s involvement in many projects and
by Merck’s recent membership of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.
We’re looking forward to sharing some similar highlights
from our research at Distributed: Trade.