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Roberto Orlandini
By Roberto Orlandini on March 09, 2021

BLOCKCHAIN: From Cryptocurrency to Life Science

WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN

Blockchain is the technology that created the 128 Bi cryptocurrency market, which is at the heart of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies such as Ethereum, Tether, and more. The Blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two or more entities in an efficient, verifiable, and permanent way. The ledger itself can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically (smart contracts).

In the simplest of terms, Blockchain is a time-stamped series of immutable records of data managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these data blocks (nodes) is secured and bound to each other using chain cryptographic principles.

THE HISTORY OF BLOCKCHAIN

The first mention of Blockchain technology was in 1991 by research scientists Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They viewed it as a computationally-practical solution to time-stamp digital documents so they could not be backdated or tampered with.

But it took 17 years, in October 2008, for Blockchain to be introduced as part of a proposal for Bitcoin, the world-famous virtual currency system, or cryptocurrency, that created a central authority for issuing currency, transferring ownership, and confirming transactions.

HOW BLOCKCHAIN WORKS

Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology and has three major components:

  1. Distributed network: The decentralized P2P architecture has nodes consisting of network participants. Each member stores an identical copy of the Blockchain and is authorized to validate and certify digital transactions for the network.
  2. Shared ledger: The members in the network record the ongoing digital transactions into a shared ledger. They run algorithms and verify the proposed transaction, and once a majority of members validate the transaction, it is added to the shared ledger.
  3. Digital transaction: Any information or digital asset stored in a Blockchain can qualify as a digital transaction. Each transaction is structured into a block. Each block contains a cryptographic hash to add the transactions in a linear, chronological order.

BLOCKCHAIN AND LIFESCIENCE BENEFITS

One of the biggest problems in life science is data siloes, where all critical information is scattered between multiple systems and is not accessible when needed the most. Blockchain implementation provides easier and faster access to the data that everyone needs.

Additional benefits of a Blockchain implementation include:

  • Medical Records and Interoperability: A patient’s medical history that is spread across providers, payers, etc., can be centralized in a Blockchain, allowing the patient to have visibility and control over their medical records. Additionally, Blockchain will enable providers, patients, and insurers to see the relevant health information needed for enhanced patient care and experience.
  • Prescription Sharing: A patient can provide consent to have personal prescriptions tracked and operated on the Blockchain to improve transparency and data validation.
  • Patient Wearables: A connected device that broadcasts patient information can offer a real-time, scalable solution for monitoring and treating patient outcomes.
  • Supply Chain: Blockchain supply chain recording can begin at the manufacturer, undergo updates by intermediaries, and be authenticated by the buyer.
  • Clinical Trials: The tracking and reporting of results can be directed to a Blockchain to improve drug development efficiency.
  • Provider Credentialing: Credentialing organizations can accrue data to the Blockchain ledger and make it available to other organizations, potentially expediting the provider credentialing process.
  • Value-Based Care: Tracking a patient’s episode of care and related medical events on a Blockchain can help to determine the quality of care over time.
  • Discounts, Rebates, and Refund Tracking: Blockchain helps to clear and settle transactions between drug manufacturers and intermediaries to track financial rebates and other incentives tied to drugs.
  • Study Protocol Management: The complete history of changes can be immutably tracked through Blockchain to enforce controls and streamline adherence.
  • Adverse Events: A Blockchain solution can enable an incubation group of companies to securely share adverse events data and provide permissions that will allow only contributing members to view other’s data.
  • Consent Management: A Blockchain solution can manage and track informed consent across multiple sites, systems, and protocols. The consent and use can be tracked forward in research.

TOP 4 CHALLENGES OF BLOCKCHAIN

  1. Blockchain has an image problem: Many feel that Blockchain is linked too closely with cryptocurrencies. That's because crypto has a negative image that is surrounded by fraudsters and hackers using the technology for criminal activities. This negative image reflects on the Blockchain technology system and makes people seriously think twice before adopting it.

    We should understand that cryptocurrency is only one application amongst many others for Blockchain technology. Keeping this in mind may result in an increased willingness to use the technology.
  2. Integration with legacy systems: Some corporations face a challenge when integrating Blockchain with their legacy system(s). In most cases, if they decide to use Blockchain, organizations must completely restructure their previous system or design a way to integrate the two technologies successfully.

    Due to the lack of skilled developers, the integration problem is exacerbated; organizations do not have access to the necessary pool of Blockchain talent to engage in this process. Reliance on an external party can soften this problem, but it will require the organization to invest a significant amount of time and resources in completing the transition.
  3. Privacy challenges: While cryptocurrencies offer pseudonymity, many potential Blockchain applications require smart transactions and contracts. These transactions and contracts are indisputably linked to known identities. It raises crucial questions about the data stored's privacy and security, accessible on a shared ledger.

    Companies today are governed by privacy regulations, which causes an issue with information stored in a public ledger since that information is not private. Private Blockchain helps companies in this situation by limiting access to your information, keeping your sensitive information private.
  4. Lack of regulatory clarity and good governance: Regulators have always struggled to keep up with technology advances. It is also the case with Blockchain. 

    Many organizations are using Blockchain technology as a means of conducting transactions. But there are no specific regulations for using Blockchain, so no one is following any specific Blockchain rules or regulations. That means there is still no real security.

    Certain areas require regulatory support, such as intelligent contracts. By not having regulations that cover smart contracts, the adoption and investment in the Blockchain industry is inhibited.

CONCLUSION

The implementation of Blockchain in Life Science will demand trust and adoption between the involved stakeholders and patients. Deploying Blockchain across the Life Science industry will improve data sharing security, accelerate research, and improve Life Science outcomes for personal health records, wearables, lab sample data management, supply chains, and research data.

Data integrity must be a top priority to mitigate risks by sharing more accurate, complete, reliable, relevant, and timely data. Besides, patient privacy must be protected through compliance regulations.

A technology that can connect everyone must have everyone's acceptance before it can connect everyone.

Find out more about Blockchain technology and how it can help your organization by contacting GxP-CC today.


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Published by Roberto Orlandini March 9, 2021
Roberto Orlandini