What will be the first blockchain applications for pharma and healthcare?

Aside from patient data and electronic health records, there appears to be a more immediate need for blockchain technology to help pharma companies keep up with regulatory requirements.

bigstock-Business-teamwork--collective-30443180While many possible uses for the blockchain in healthcare are still years away, the potential applications of it that would directly affect patients seem to be closer than previously thought. For instance, a patient-centered database on the blockchain could be successfully implemented in less than two years.

Blockchain, for the uninitiated, is the underlying technology for bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

That was one of the main ideas to come out of the first Pharma Blockchain Bootcamp held in November by DisruptiveRx, a group that organizes events focused on innovations in the pharma field. All of the speaker discussions at the daylong conference “looked at patients taking control of their data on the blockchain and using it as ‘leverage’ to manage their healthcare,” said Maria Palombini, managing partner of DisruptiveRx, in a post-conference interview.

“It seems to be that if we can get patient data on the blockchain that pharma manufacturers and the rest of the partners behind them—wholesalers, dispensaries—would fall into it,” she added.

Already pilot applications and studies at the intersection of blockchain technology and patient information are being created. Factom, Inc., a company based in Austin, Texas, received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November to work on securing the data of patients in developing countries using blockchain technology and guaranteeing the fidelity of patient data through biometric verification.

“Medical records are historically documented on paper and stored by clinics. This poses a problem when people move or if the region is destabilized. Creating medical recordings and securing them with the Factom blockchain solves both these problems,” read a company press release.

Aside from patient data and records, there appears to be a more immediate need for blockchain technology to help pharma companies keep up with regulatory requirements. Dr. Bryant Gilot, chief medical officer of San Francisco-based startup Blockchain Health and a conference speaker, thinks the blockchain will find a ready home as pharma companies try to become compliant with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act. Passed into law in 2013, the act dictates that by 2023 pharma companies should be able to track the production of drugs from raw materials all the way to dispensing to ensure safety and legitimacy.

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“This is triggering a very large documentary burden, requiring signatures and consents,” Gilot said in a phone call with MedCity News. “This is a wonderful place to explore what we can do with blockchains.”

Blockchain Health is also working with large pharmaceutical companies (under nondisclosure agreements) to deliver a proof of concept of blockchain technology where it applies to meeting the regulatory requirements of something like the 2013 act.

“[Pharma companies] are the second industry to actually take this seriously,” Gilot said of blockchain tech, which was first taken seriously by the financial industry.  “They are really thinking about it at the board level, the executive level, and they are sending out their armies to figure things out.”

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry is only at the beginning of pursuing blockchain technology for relevant applications, but as speakers at the Pharma Blockchain Bootcamp seemed to agree, the sooner patient data ends up on the blockchain, the quicker the rest of the industry will be to follow.

“Pharma needs to stop thinking that their value is exclusively the drugs they produce and more about the value they can generate from the data,” Palombini said.

Photo: Bigstock