How AbbVie is Collaborating on an Exciting Blockchain Pilot

Blockchain technology has been gaining traction as a possible solution for the perennial problems associated with healthcare: the under-utilisation and segregation of valuable data, tortuous trails for following patient records and other essential information, general data handling, compliance, interoperability, and data security issues.

However, practical applications of blockchain in the health and biotechnology sector are few in number, and limited in scope. The biopharmaceutical company AbbVie is among this first wave of blockchain pioneers, as one of the organisations participating in a closed drug tracking system called the MediLedger Consortium.

How Blockchain Technology Could Benefit Healthcare

In the highly regulated world of healthcare, information is often under-used or consigned to silos, where it may occasionally be forgotten. Even between hospitals within the same system, it’s difficult to track a given patient’s health records, let alone properly bill for treatment. Maintaining provider data costs an estimated $2.1 billion annually across the healthcare system.

Blockchain technology creates a chronological database allowing for transparent and secure data tracking across computing devices, and data management on a peer-to-peer level by the members authorised to access and use a given blockchain network.

Blockchain technology and decentralised ledgers could offer robust and digitally secure solutions for healthcare data, streamline and secure pharmaceutical and medical device supply chains, while removing redundant administrative work for insurers. With their highly secure and change-resistant or immutable information storage, decentralisation, and increased transparency of transactions, blockchain networks offer an incentive for stakeholders in the life sciences and biotechnology sectors to change the way they handle their data.

AbbVie And The MediLedger Consortium

Formerly a part of Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie (derived from a combination of that parent organisation and “vie”, the French word for “life”) was incorporated in 2013 as a separate company in its own right.

With around 30,000 employees acting as scientists, researchers, communicators, manufacturing specialists, and regulatory experts in locations around the globe, AbbVie is a highly focused and research-driven biopharmaceutical company.

AbbVie looks to innovate relentlessly in all areas, enabling the company to tackle unmet needs. This innovative approach extends beyond creating or discovering new medicines and healthcare approaches, to investments in ground-breaking technologies and platforms, that can help deliver better solutions to AbbVie’s patients.

Blockchain technology provides an innovative medium for achieving several of AbbVie’s operational objectives. So, AbbVie - along with pharmaceutical firms Genentech, Pfizer, and a few others - signed up for a pilot of blockchain company Chronicled‘s MediLedger project.

A Blockchain Platform For The Health Industry

As the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) phases in to 2023 with a deadline for returns in November 2019, the US pharmaceutical sector faces a race against time, to comply with the strict new regulations. The legislation requires drugs to be serialised and traceable - presenting major challenges, under existing practices in the healthcare sector.

MediLedger aims to be the health industry consortium that tackles serialisation and other business problems, with the ultimate vision of becoming an open network addressing the entire pharmaceutical supply chain.

The need to share information between numerous parties and have a “single source of truth” makes blockchain technology ideal for drug serialisation. The MediLedger blockchain stores data on several separate nodes or servers, which makes it difficult for unauthorised users to access or manipulate the data. If for example, a counterfeit operation managed to hack into one server, they wouldn’t be able to manipulate information across all the others.

The pilot phase of the project is already addressing a number of the issues facing players in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors.

Addressing The Issue Of Saleable Returns

If the purchase of a drug or medical supply is deemed inappropriate to a condition, unnecessary, or surplus, consumers expect the right to return such items, for a full or partial refund. For the distributors, returned items in a still viable condition may then be resold.

The management of saleable returns is one of the complex issues that pharmaceutical supply chains must contend with, on a daily basis.

The MediLedger project uses a closed blockchain system (open for vetted participants to join) to track who touched what drug, at what time. By allowing only manufacturers to commission serial numbers and attach unique identifiers to products (which are noted by the ledger), the system makes it much more difficult for a counterfeit product to enter the chain at a random point. In addition, the MediLedger blockchain system uses “zero-knowledge proofs” to allow companies to meet compliance demands without actually sharing data with each other.

Fighting The Scourge Of Counterfeiting

Counterfeiting was one of the principal reasons why AbbVie and other organisations joined the MediLedger Consortium in 2017. The project provides “track and trace” capability to players in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the levels of transparency necessary for verifying the authenticity of products, pinpointing the origins of suspected fraud, and identifying the bad actors who perpetrate the crimes.

The MediLedger database is highly resistant to hacking, with each entry being cryptographically signed and encrypted. This provides robust security for the entire value chain - from production, to quality assurance, to distribution.

Many other use cases are possible, and AbbVie and other early blockchain adopters will enjoy a significant competitive advantage over those that follow.

Blockchain technology is set to be a hot topic at LogiPharma 2020, being held in April, at the Nice Acropolis, France. Please download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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