Could Blockchain lead the Life Sciences towards a brighter future?

 

Powerful by nature, multifunctional by design, Blockchain has been steadily rising into global prominence in the last decade and finding application in numerous industries, from finances, through real estate, and arts to life sciences. According to Deloitte’s report on Blockchain trends, 40% of the surveyed people plan to invest at least 5 million US dollars in Blockchain in the upcoming year. Enormous investments often translate into enormous possibilities, especially in industries, where innovative technology can solve problems with data transparency, traceability, and trustworthiness, like the Life Sciences. According to Deloitte’s report,  back in 2018, 35% of surveyed organizations planned to use Blockchain, more so than in the majority of other industries. How could Blockchain transform the world of the Life Sciences?
The security and manageability of data are one of the industry’s biggest challenges, and that is exactly where Blockchain could come to rescue. Designed to encourage the free, secure flow of information Blockchain could “chain information to widely shared records”, in turn creating a holistic, integrated system for the Life Sciences.  From insurance-related transactions to medical records, Blockchain could make medical systems more cost-efficient and time-effective. Fragmented networks, which are currently in place, do not prevent medical fraud, which is estimated to exceed $270 billion annually, from excessive billing, fees for services that were never performed, and false information. Given that Blockchain does not allow for manipulating information, once it is placed in the system, it minimizes chances for fraud. A shared network, in which MedTech, pharma, patients, and providers, are all linked so they could collaborate better, could completely revolutionize the world of the Life Sciences.

Blockchain’s potential to revolutionize the Life Sciences: key use cases

1. Drug traceability 

Involving multiple partners, the current drug supply chain lacks transparency and is difficult to trace. With the help of Blockchain, drug producers and manufacturers could easily monitor the location of their products, creating a transparent information system for all involved parties. How to do so? If each product had a unique identifier for each stop in the supply chain, it would be always easy to track a product’s journey to customers. 

2. Drug counterfeit prevention

In the USA, every drug has its own unique identifier (bar code), but counterfeiters still manage to steal serial numbers to push fake medicines they sell. Given that unique identifies could be registered on Blockchain, where information cannot be freely modified, the system would be highly transparent. Any supply of fake medicines could be discovered more easily: the entire supply chain would be trackable, so the source of leak could be quickly located.

3. Supply chain

The complexity of the Life Sciences’ supply chain impacts the efficiency of the entire system. With thousands of providers, endless organizations, and numerous vendors, information is easily lost, leading to wasted time and capital. Blockchain could replace traditional contracts with smart agreements, which track their own execution, improving collaboration and compliance, and removing the need for intermediaries.

4. Medical records and interoperability

In the traditional system, a patient’s medical history is stored by numerous providers, and linking information together is neither time-effective, nor cost-efficient, but required to get the full picture of a patient’s medical history. With the help of Blockchain’s centralized, yet secure technology, patients, health care providers, and insurers could easily access health information without compromising the security of patients’ medical information.

5. Clinical trials

With numerous stages and parties involved in clinical trials for drugs, Blockchain could dramatically improve the flow of information, therefore boosting the efficiency of drug development processes.

6. Specialty logistics

The right temperature is crucial for the transportation of many drugs, as they could lose their healing properties due to the slightest slight in temperature. For that very reason, cold chain logistics, or simply a temperature-controlled supply chain, is crucial for the pharmaceutical industry. According to Accenture’s report, the expected spending on cold chain management will reach nearly $17 billion by 2020. Blockchain could encourage a secure flow of information, creating documentation of products’ storage temperatures during the entire transportation process. 

7. Consent management

Consent is crucial for the Life Sciences to ensure legal compliance and provide customers with high-quality service. Blockchain could easily manage and track consent across multiple protocols, making sure that no information is lost in the system.

8. Prescription sharing

With the consent granted to track patients’ prescriptions, transparency and data validation of prescriptions could optimize the entire healthcare system, reducing the time required to link doctors’ recommendations with pharmaceutical assistance.

Main challenges on the road to mass Blockchain adoption

What are the main obstacles preventing Blockchain from optimizing the Life Sciences industry? The main problem is Blockchain’s regulatory status. There are very few legal and regulatory frameworks in place for Blockchain, and The Life Sciences cannot take any risks regarding new technologies, as they handle very sensitive data. Another challenge lies in Blockchain’s scalability. To truly benefit from Blockchain’s use, all parties have to incorporate Blockchain into their processes. In Deloitte’s report, it is stated that the industry would have to achieve a balance between “permissionless blockchains (which offer more computing power) and permissioned ones (which offer faster processing).”, which is both complicated and time- and money-consuming. Costs related to mass Blockchain adoption also slow the Blockchain revolution down, but as the increasing number of industry players warms up to the idea of technology-powered future, investing in Blockchain will be on everybody’s agenda.

All in all, Blockchain’s second name is ‘possibility’, and in the Life Sciences, every little increase in the system’s efficiency could lead to enormous added value for both customers and providers. The list of problems that Blockchain could address is long, but so is the list of obstacles it has to overcome on the way to mass adoption. Luckily, the future seems bright for Blockchain, as according to Accenture’s estimates “blockchain technology could provide a $3 billion dollar opportunity by 2025.” Perhaps Blockchain will be just what the doctor ordered!

Sources:
1. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ie/Documents/Consulting/B...
2. https://www.technologynetworks.com/informatics/articles/how-can-blockcha...
3. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/pdf-71/accenture_blockchain_innovati...
4. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/life-science...
5. https://www.epam.com/blockchain/life-sciences

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