The investments into blockchain technology in the healthcare industry are growing rapidly, reaching $200M according to a recent report of the major consortium R3. The implementation of the DLT technology in the healthcare industry is caused by the emerging problem of pharma counterfeit and ineffective supply chains.
Anything that makes money will be counterfeited. This affects patented medications as well as generics. Expensive, prescription drugs, such as those used in AIDS or cancer therapy, are especially lucrative for dubious businesses. Antibiotics are the most commonly counterfeited drugs, particularly in low-income nations where medicines are prohibitively expensive for many people. In high-income countries, there is a growing trend toward fake “lifestyle” medications.
Illegal trade takes place around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that counterfeit medicines worth 73 billion euros are traded annually. Dubious online pharmacies that conceal their true location deliver globally – reaching countries such as Germany, UK, Italy, Spain etc. or the USA. Supplies from illegal internet pharmacies – those without appropriate certification – are up to 50% counterfeits.
The extent of the problem varies greatly between regions and individual countries, and also depends largely on temporary supplies. The problem is highly dependent on how tight legal controls are. The WHO estimates that in some areas in Africa, Asia, and South America, more than 30% of medicines in circulation are fake. In some countries in Eastern Europe, the proportion of fake medicines can be more than 20%.
The current state of healthcare and pharma records is incoherent and irrational due to a lack of common architectures and standards that would allow the safe transfer of sensitive information among stakeholders in the system. Blockchain application in the healthcare industry, while still at the early stage of development, it presents various opportunities such as:- keeping track of patients’ health, new insights on population health; and supports the direction toward value-based care.
There are already several use-cases in the pharma industry: blockchain can help with verifying the authenticity of returned drugs and compliance in the pharma supply chain. Merck in partnership with SAP has developed the SAP Pharma Blockchain POC app for the use-case. Blockchain protocols in clinical trials can provide transparency and traceability of consent.
Another groundbreaking use-case in pharma is the prevention of counterfeit drugs and medical devices. One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world based in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis AG, has made tremendous progress in this direction. They have been experimenting with blockchain since 2016 and have run various proofs of concept (PoCs). Today, their primary tech development is aimed to identify counterfeit medicines and track temperature with real-time visibility for all participants in the supply chain, using Blockchain and IoT.
They are also working on a public-private partnership between the European pharmaceutical industry and the EU – the IMI Blockchain Enabled Healthcare program. The program aims to partner the pharma industry with a consortia made up of SME blockchain companies, universities, clinical labs, hospitals, patient representatives and others. It’s a wide-ranging project that includes counterfeit drug detection, supply chain, patient data, and clinical trials.
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