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Modernizing Pharma's Supply Chain

Lipscomb University, based in Nashville, Tennessee, has formed a partnership with Hashed Health, a healthcare innovation company focused on blockchain technology. The partnership, as reported by the Tennessean (USA Today network) in June, will explore potential uses for distributed ledgers in the healthcare sector.

Blockchain technology in the healthcare industry is “still in its infancy, but you've got pockets of experts who are innovating," said Beth Breeden, chair of Lipscomb's program in healthcare informatics, adding that the partnership "will be sort of an advanced leg-up on what will be utilized in the healthcare community as this technology matures."

Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy is the first academic organization to join the Hashed Health consortium of healthcare operators in the blockchain space. A Lipscomb news release stated that the partnership is “the university’s initial entrance into the blockchain space with curriculum, classes and internships on blockchain technology along with professors conducting research.”

The College, ranked in the top 10 percent of all colleges of pharmacy in the U.S., offers a Doctor of Pharmacy degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). It’s worth noting that Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy is the first in the U.S. to give student pharmacists full access to IBM Watson Analytics for smart data discovery, which signals a strong commitment to leveraging emerging technologies in healthcare applications.

“We see tremendous opportunity to update and streamline pharmacy operations through the blockchain,” said Roger Davis, Dean of the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences at Lipscomb University. “This partnership is a stepping-stone into leveraging the blockchain and distributed ledger technology to be at the forefront of healthcare improvements.”

Redefining Healthcare Technology

“Our goal for Hashed Health is to redefine how people, including students, view healthcare technology,” said John Bass, CEO of Hashed Health. “With the combination of Hashed Health’s expertise on the intersection of healthcare and blockchain technology, and the research capability of Lipscomb University’s College of Pharmacy, we are driving the next revolution in healthcare.”

Hashed Health is persuaded that blockchain technology will transform most healthcare organizations over the next 10 years. As their website states, “think of it as a new business layer for the internet with the reliability and security to exchange data and govern shared business logic between companies and consumers.”

Experts Address Concerns

A panel at our recent Distributed: Trade 2017 event, held on July 24 at Washington University in St. Louis, explored how distributed ledger technology could provide solutions for current challenges in pharmacy supply chains. The participants in the panel were Matt Smith, senior software engineer at Gem; Brigid McDermott, VP for Blockchain Business Development at IBM; Nick Williamson, founder and CEO of Qadre; and Alix Catalanotto, Director of Strategic Drug Sourcing at Express Scripts.

According to the panel’s experts, counterfeiting is a significant global issue for both pharmaceutical companies and consumers. It’s important to bear in mind that almost 80 percent of pharmaceuticals sold by U.S. manufacturers are actually produced overseas. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still supposed to regulate domestic companies with factories overseas, oversight is made difficult by the fact that supply chains in the developing world may be counterfeited.

A related issue addressed by panel participants was the new compliance regulations expected to take effect soon. Among these regulations are the FDA’s request for data reports on quality metrics and the Identification of Medicinal Products (IDMP). The former appears to be an aspect of the FDA’s intention to promote modernization of the pharmaceutical industry by pushing companies to use data analysis. The latter, meanwhile, is a standardization model with the purpose of allowing for the wide and reliable exchange of various types of medicinal product information.

Both these regulations demand more thorough supply chain monitoring and management, and therefore both can be adequately addressed using blockchain technology. Thus, once the stricter regulations land, the adoption of blockchain technology in the U.S. healthcare industry is likely to speed up. At the same time, there are different blockchain protocols, and which one is “the best” remains an open question. It isn’t likely that there is an overall best, rather, the unique needs of different applications could lead to the use of different coexisting protocols.

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