Your Rx on blockchain

We have been discussing blockchain technology for a while now (e.g., see our posts Etherium enters the enterprise, Blockchains go mainstream, and our podcast Discussing blockchains with Donna Dillenberger). And we were at VMworld 2019 where there was brief mention of Project Concord and VMware’s blockchain use for supply chain management.

But recently there was an article in Science Daily about the use of blockchain technology to improvedprescriptions. This was summary of a research paper on Cryptopharmacueticals (paper behind paywall).

How cryptopharmaceuticals could work

Essentially the intent is to use a medical blockchain, to fight counterfeit drugs. They have a proof of concept IOS & Android MedBlockChain app that would show how it could work, but it’s just a sample of some of its functionality, and doesn’t use an external blockchain.

The MedBlockChain app would create a platform and have at least two sides to it.

  • One side would be the phamaceutical manufacturers which would use the blockchain to add or checkin medications that they manufacture to it in an immutable fashion. So the block chain would essentially have an unfalsifiable record of each pill or batch of pills, that was ever manufactured by pharmaceutical companies around the world.
  • The other side would be used by a person taking a medication. Here they could check-out or use the app to see if the medication they are taking was manufactured by a certified supplier of the drug. Presumably there would be a QR code or something similar, that could be read off the medicine package or pill itself. The app would scan the QR code and then use MedBlockChain to look up the provenance of the medication to see if it’s valid or not (a fraudulent copy).

The example MedBlockChain app also has more medical information that could be made available on the block chain such as test results, body measurements, vitals, etc. These could all be stored immutably in the MedBlockChain and provided to medical practitioners. How such medical (HIPPA controlled) personal information would be properly secured and only supplied in plaintext to appropriate personnel is another matter..

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Cryptopharmaceuticals and the MedBlockChain reminds me of IBM’s blockchain providing diamond provenance and other supply chain services, only in this case applied to medications. Diamond provenance makes sense because of its high cost but drugs seem a harder market to make to me.

I was going to say that such a market may not exist in first world countries. But then I -saw a wikipedia article on counterfeit medicines (bad steroids and cancer medicines with no active ingredients). It appears that counterfeit/fraudulent medications are a problem wherever you may live.

Then of course, the price of medications seems to be going up. So maybe, it could start as a provenance tool for expensive medications and build a market from there.

How to convince manufacturers and the buying public to use the blockchain is another matter. It’s sort of a chicken and egg thing. You need the manufacturers to use it for medications, pills or batch that they manufacture. Doing so adds overhead, time and additional expense and they would need to add a QR code or something similar to every pill, pen or other drug delivery device.

Then maybe you could get consumers and medical practitioners administering drugs to start using it to validate expensive meds. Starting with expensive medications could potentially build the infrastructure, consumer/medical practitioner and pharmaceutical company buy in that would kick start the MedBlockChain. Once started there, it could work its way down to more widely used medications.

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