The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Is Ready For Blockchain

In pharmaceuticals and the life sciences sector, the most valuable commodity is trust. When a patient pops a pill, he is putting his life on the hands of the prescribing doctor and the drug company that developed the pill alongside the supply chain that delivered it to him.

Now in drug production and supply, these problems are thankfully rare. Although the consequences of failure could be more significant for the pharmaceutical company in terms of reputation, you can only trust that the supply chain is always watertight, which hasn’t always been the case.

Maintaining Trust In The Industry

Earlier in the summer, there were reports of a criminal gang in Italy stealing unsafe medicine and selling them in UK pharmacies. Although the drugs were not counterfeit, they had been outside the regulated supply chain for long and had been classified as falsified.

The industry is well aware of its responsibilities to patients and is quick to take steps to address the existing issues that put people’s safety at risk. For instance the Chicago Tylenol murders back in 1980, which provides a good example. The industry was quick enough to develop tamper-resistant packaging, although Johnson & Johnson ought to be commended for how they handled the crisis.

The maintenance of this trust also means that the industry has to anticipate future challenges. It has to harness new technologies to ensure the verification and traceability of the supply chain. That’s where blockchain comes in.

Tamper Proof Supply Chain

Blockchain is one of the most critical technologies in managing massive amounts of data in drug development, supply, and even clinical trials and logistics. The technology itself was developed to track and record bitcoin transactions with its distributed ledger model.

The fact that information is replicated throughout the network makes the technology as tamperproof as the seals in modern medicine. It’s virtually impossible to falsify the data stored on the blockchain.

One of the obvious uses of blockchain is registering the transfer of goods between two parties. The transfer with all its supporting information is logged in the blockchain and made available to all the involved parties. This enables them to trace the provenance throughout the entire supply chain.

Distributed ledger technology makes it impossible to manipulate data. Regulators now have the ability with certainty on who bears the responsibility of breach and contamination.


The Challenges

The technology is as exciting as it looks, although we are still some way from blockchain delivering on its promises. We are still dealing with a nascent technology in its earliest phases of development and adoption. The challenge, as of now, is acquiring the relevant skills to ensure a smooth implementation.

Integration is also a key concern, although there are real solutions in the market. The best way to approach the same is developing a dedicated network and a consortium of companies to agree on the general adoption standards.