For many businesses, trade and commerce ideas are still trapped in Victorian era in spite of ever increasing IT-reliance. Whether it is a business settlement, transfer of property ownership or resolving an insurance claim, composite business processes can take days to complete and require volumes of repetitive, tedious paper-based work. All these processes, however, need mediators, such as stock exchanges, banks, government agencies or technology platforms, to serve as the trusted middle man between unknown parties and carry out record-keeping, accounting and law enforcement. These further result in unintended loss of precious time and money in creating, maintaining and dealing with mediators. To tackle such challenges, “blockchain technology”, the decentralized, distributed ledger infrastructure built around strong cryptography, is expected to support full digital transformation across the life sciences space. (1,2)
To put it simply, blockchain is a log of transactions that is duplicated and allocated across multiple decentralized locations. It offers reliable, unbiased third party mechanisms to gauge the location of a particular data set and also the predictions about its precise transformation. (3) Recently, blockchain technology has been witnessing rapid growth, especially in the healthcare and life sciences domains; and it’s only the beginning of what’s possible. A recent IBM study- ‘how blockchains can provide new benefits for healthcare’- reports about 16% of healthcare executives are planning to implement a commercial blockchain solution at present and this number is expected to reach to 56% by 2020. (4,5)
Creating practical, highly reliable records associated with a patient regardless of their moving through different healthcare systems is one of the biggest challenges of healthcare IT. Blockchain offers an opportunity to build a reliable place to track the changes across systems in order to attend to many of the concerns associated with data integration between proprietary systems. (3) Blockchain can be implemented across all supply chain functions, particularly proving beneficial for the life sciences supply chain; such as provenance, serialization track and trace and specialty logistics. (6)
Depending on the requirement and types of permissions among data sharers, there can be different types of blockchains providing value to the life sciences supply chain. These types of blockchains include: Public, Permission-less Blockchains (allowing access to any user at any time), Federated, Permissioned Blockchains (accessible to users based on the rules defined by the group of entities participating in the network), and Private, Permissioned Blockchains (allowing access to users based on the permissions set by the private network). (7)
One of the most intricate challenges of the life sciences supply chain is the ability to effectively track the origin of a product (or therapy) from raw materials to the finished product. Blockchain is an ideal solution to this problem, given that no single organization is responsible for provenance. Additionally, in order to eliminate counterfeit and diverted products thereby contributing to increased patient safety, blockchains can be helpful with serialization capabilities for the recall process. Recall notification, once injected into the blockchain, can generate communication and alert messages to all affected parties (manufacturers, distributors, dispensers and eventually patients). Moreover, blockchain together with technologies like IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) can provide documentation of storage temperatures at every point in a product’s journey, thus generating solutions for specialty logistics. (7)
In near future, approximately 30 percent of life sciences companies are planning to employ blockchain, thus opening new business opportunities and addressing past challenges. Blockchain tools in supply chain applications know no bounds for life sciences companies, given the necessity for specialized medicines and therapies. (7)
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- The Voyage of Discovery: Blockchain for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices. IEEE. April, 2017.
- Blockchain: A Catalyst for the Next Wave of Progress in Life Sciences. Cognizant. June, 2017.
- Bean R, et al. How Blockchain Is Impacting Healthcare And Life Sciences Today. April, 2018.
- Frazeer H. How blockchains can provide new benefits for healthcare. February, 2017.
- Marr B. This Is Why Blockchains Will Transform Healthcare. November, 2017.
- Guenther C. Transforming life sciences with blockchain. February, 2018.
- In blockchain we trust: Transforming the life sciences supply chain. Accenture Life Sciences.