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Using customer needs to drive Blockchain innovation

Manuela Maria Schöner, part of the Corporate Strategy & Consulting division at Boehringer Ingelheim, spoke to us recently about her work with blockchain. She described her perspective on the use of data in the industry, and how Blockchain could become a key tool in meeting the needs of the primary stakeholders: patients.

Looking across pharma as an industry, we can see that a lot of valuable data is generated, but goes unused for different reasons. For example, because data is collected in an unstructured manner using different systems that do not speak with each other, or because data owners do not trust each other with regard to data integrity and data security.

Consequently, data is often not shared or shared using costly and time-consuming intermediary institutions and processes. Being able to generate trust and transparency amongst different stakeholders that neither knows each other nor trust each other is one crucial step towards making connections and links and leveraging data from various sources to improve patient outcomes.

Personally, working within innovative pharma is to know that every day we invest massively in finding solutions to help patients get healthy and live longer with a higher quality of life. Putting the patient and customer needs at the centre of our work is core to finding solutions that matter.

During my PhD at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, I started collaborating with the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center. My goal was to build a bridge between Blockchain and pharma and see where the new and disruptive technology that everyone was talking about could be applied to an industry where, at this point in time, it was not getting a lot of attention. I want to find out whether and how elements of the technology may help in transforming business models and processes within pharma.

Two widely discussed use case applications in pharma today are in supply chain and compliance/consent.

Blockchain & AI integration in pharmaceutical supply chain

Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are complementary technologies. We know that Blockchain is immutable and that it is very difficult to manipulate data once it is stored on the Blockchain. However, one problem that Blockchain has had is at the point where physical assets are being stored onto the Blockchain.

The patent that Merck received in the US in early 2019, a proposed solution that could bring safety and transparency to the pharmaceutical supply chain, utilizes AI and Blockchain in combination. In this solution, AI functions as the complementary technology needed to connect physical assets to the Blockchain leveraging image patterns as unique identifiers.

Smart contracts and informed consent

Pharmaceutical companies and regulators are starting to explore the potential of Blockchain technology in clinical trials. At Boehringer Ingelheim, we now collaborate with IBM in Canada to test the possibilities of Blockchain in clinical trials.

Via a permissioned Blockchain framework, patient consent is shared with authorized participants in a distributed decentralized, time-stamped and cryptographically secured way, empowering patients to maintain control over their consent. Smart contracts can be leveraged to ensure that participation, data collection and data sharing is done with valid consent.[1]

Customer-driven application

In my view, it is immensely positive that there is a genuine interest in Blockchain and its potential cross-industry. Yet, my impression is that there still is a need for education. There is also a significant amount of hype around, not least because of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Furthermore, we need to be careful that we are not putting technology at the centre of ideas and innovation. I believe in putting the needs of patients and customers at the centre of our work, particularly when it comes to innovation.

Presentations and reports concerning this area of healthcare are available for free on the Blockchain and Cyber Security resources page. To see what is available, take a look here.

[1] Dr Uli Brödl, Vice President, Medical and Regulatory Affairs, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd., Testing blockchain technology for clinical trials in Canada

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