Critical Supply Chain Data
Since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, world-class hospitals from New York to Atlanta to San Francisco have struggled with shortages of basic safety equipment. Masks, gowns, and face shields have all been in short supply, and the race to get more has meant hospital staff and public officials desperately searching for reliable suppliers. Elsewhere on the front lines, there have been critical shortages in the test kits that experts agree are essential to reopening economies the world over. With hopes pinned on the emergence of a Covid-19 vaccine and many of the same challenges still at play today, could blockchain define the Covid-19 vaccine response?
Problems in the medical supply chain are neither new, nor uncommon. It’s quite easy to see why: These products can travel through tangled, global supply chains in which documentation is often manual and paper based, piling up at each handoff and border crossing.
As a result, theft and quality control issues are common, and regulators and distributors struggle to locate substandard products that have entered the system.
Unfortunately, today’s chaos may prove to be a practice run for even more concentrated pressure on our health care supply chains.
A Covid-19 Vaccine as a Catalyst?
When we do produce effective treatments or, eventually, a vaccine, millions — and even billions — of people around the world will simultaneously want the same thing, and it will be in limited supply. The global medical supply chain will be tested in ways that cannot be foreseen. What is clear is that distribution, access, origination and authentication will be absolutely critical. Not only for a vaccine product itself, but for patients that have received it.
This effect is most clearly demonstrated by the impact of covid-19 testing that is performed today. Data from this testing is critical to determining infection rates, hot-zones and implementation of policies at city, state and national levels. Employers, schools and society at-large rely on this data to understand how to safely reopen and how to manage their respective populations.
Blockchain May Hold the Key
When a vaccine is made available immunization data will be needed in near real time. How will fraud, forgery and authentication be avoided for something like an immunization record, at a global scale?
The answer could be tantalizingly close in blockchain technology. Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) seems purpose built to handle these types of scenarios in healthcare.
Built-in features such as data provenance, data integrity, immutability and consensus protocols are fundamental blockchain pillars. These very features could provide answers for stretched supply chains, vaccine access & control and immunization record-keeping over the next 2-3 years.
Related: Want to know more about Blockchain’s role in healthcare? Check out The Gootz Guide to Blockchain in Healthcare Course. We’ve reviewed all the latest literature, real-life use cases and commercial roll-outs so anyone can quickly ramp up to an expert-level understanding of this rapidly advancing field.
Distribution and Access Channels Will be Stressed
To fix some of these supply chain vulnerabilities, the industry is already turning to blockchain technology. As the Harvard Business Review points out “this will most certainly not be our last global health crisis. Blockchains could not only help us increase agility during extraordinary black swan events, but also help us operate better in day-to-day operations”.
The ability to verify what is true when a business process spans organizations with competing interests — companies can safely work together in a shared, permanent ledger. They can do this without giving up control of or even revealing their data, as mathematical proof of data can stand in as a trustworthy proxy for actual data.
Instead of being owned and managed by a single company that everyone must trust, the ledger is governed by all members of a network. Because this makes it possible to delegate the work of checks and balances to cryptography and code, blockchains can reduce friction, expose fraud, and assure product authenticity with new speed.
A lot has changed. But blockchain remains at the forefront of technologies that might help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it could play a vital role in how we slowly and carefully get back to work and meeting with friends and colleagues.
That means blockchain, and its implementation, will be an important part of decision making in the weeks and months to come.
Quantum Materials is working on so-called immunization passports that would help people demonstrate they’re virus free and can work or socialize in some formats with some degree of certainty. And it can do so with a minimal degree of sharing personal and medical data that could be reused and resold like so much of our other personal data is.
This kind of functionality can be expanded to uses such as contact tracing. Imagine a scenario where data is interconnected to healthcare facilities across borders so that every patient has an opportunity to share personal data, including location over time.
With such a platform for reporting, tracking, and notifying that is global in nature and respects privacy we can identify new cases rapidly and verify those who have immunity.
To that effect, the start-up Workwolf has invited the Canadian government to use its proprietary blockchain for tracking Covid-19 cases, immunity or resistance, and test results. Another player, Vital Chain, is turning clinically certified results into blockchain-based health and safety credentials for employees to prove their fitness for returning to work.
Incidence, Effectiveness and Outcomes
If we applied these capabilities at a global scale, we could capture a single, comprehensive account of global incidence rates and outcomes that was verified and secure. That’s what the start-up Hacera is trying to do.
With the support of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, the Linux Foundation, and others, it launched MiPasa, an initiative to integrate, aggregate, and share information at a global scale from multiple verified sources.
This includes the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization, but also hard-to-get data from local public health agencies, licensed private facilities, and even individuals — all without personal identifiers. MiPasa onboards data providers through Hacera’s Unbounded network, a decentralized blockchain powered by Hyperledger Fabric, and then streams data using the IBM Blockchain platform and IBM Cloud.
Hacera has developed a tutorial for coders to build applications on top of the platform. This kind of value creation is the gigantic incentive needed to rally numerous institutions so that we can trace people’s exposure to infected individuals, reduce transmissions, save lives, and put more people back to work.
Global Clinical Trial Coordination
Finding a Covid-19 vaccine is a top priority. To accelerate discovery, the blockchain start-up Shivom is working on a global project to collect and share virus host data in response to a call for action from the European Union’s Innovative Medicines Initiative.
Shivom scientists formed a global Multi-Omics Data Hub Consortium comprised of universities, medical centers, and companies, many of which have expertise in AI and blockchain, all for combatting coronavirus infections. The consortium’s data hub is based on part of Shivom’s blockchain-based precision medicine platform.
In another collaboration Chronicled and Deloitte announced that they have formed an alliance to bring blockchain-powered solutions to the life sciences and healthcare industry. The partnership aims to leverage technology to provide interoperability, security and efficiency to processes involving companies in revenue management and the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Combating Counterfeits and Fraud
Several alliances have formed to help combat counterfeits and fraud in the medication used for the treatment of COVID-19, an issue that has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. According to the enterprises, the product verification capabilities of Chronicled’s MediLedger Network, a blockchain-enabled network for the life sciences industry, could enable pharmacies and hospitals to authenticate high risk or suspect products.
It works through a barcode scan that validates product data against the original manufacturer’s data. The companies stated the network already enables verification by pharmaceutical wholesalers for more than 95 percent of drugs being re-sold in the US.
According to Susanne Somerville, Chief Executive Officer of Chronicled “combining Chronicled’s innovative product verification and contracts and chargebacks solutions and Deloitte’s deep experience with implementation and the complexities of these business processes, we have the ability to create tremendous value for the industry and the world.”
Built for the Moment
As both the technology and the industry’s processes for working together matures, blockchain efforts like these could help us get better and faster at getting medicines and vaccines to where we have the most epidemiological urgency.
With more granular visibility, stakeholders could better zero in on clogs in supply chains, more quickly locate and remove expired, damaged, or fraudulent products, see where supplies are low, and efficiently redistribute inventory to where it is needed most.
As we wake up to the fact that our health and economic welfare is interconnected with those thousands of miles away, it becomes clearer that we need to leverage our global resources to effectively fight large-scale problems. Blockchains could help us do this more safely and efficiently