Blockchain has been billed as a transformative technology that could improve drug traceability in clinical trial supply chains, but many industry experts are skeptical.


Copyright: – “Blockchain in clinical trial supply chains: more hype than heft?”


Blockchain technology, which safely and securely records valuable data, has emerged as a solution for transparently tracking complex supply chains. However, many experts are doubtful that pharma—generally a conservative and tightly regulated industry—will implement or benefit from this technology.

Experts say the pharma industry has a low appetite for investment in blockchain, particularly given the more promising supply chain tracking alternatives, such as radio frequency identification (RFID). Meanwhile, pharma supply chains are already tightly regulated, so the industry cannot benefit from blockchain the way other industries might.

“Blockchain is a big buzzword, but it’s not necessarily the answer in biomedicine supply chains,” says Dr. Atul Butte, chief data scientist at University of California Health. “There are a lot of other proposed solutions out there.”

Can blockchain offer supply chain advantages?

Blockchain is a tool for digital record-keeping, where each piece of data added to the blockchain ledger is transparent and secure, explains Chi-Ren Shyu, director of the University of Missouri Institute for Data Science and Informatics. All entries on a blockchain are immutable, making it impossible to retroactively manipulate data after it is recorded, he adds.

In drug supply chains, blockchain could guarantee the trustworthiness of all data recorded on each step of the supply chain, from the raw materials sourced to the doses at a trial site, Shyu says. However, it is not necessarily clear that trustworthiness is a major concern in pharma supply chains in the first place, he notes.

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Countries with major drug markets have tight regulations, so blockchain’s immutability does not provide a major trust advantage, Butte adds. In addition, the transparency of blockchain is not necessarily an advantage in the clinical trials sector, he notes. Details of drug supply chains, including sensitive patient data such as whether a drug is an active treatment or placebo, should still be secured in private databases, he explains.

Pharma slow to adopt

Even if blockchain did significantly improve the trustworthiness of drug traceability, there are major questions over whether pharma would trust the new technology, Shyu says. Pharma is conservative about adopting new technologies, particularly when there are few use cases in other industries, he notes.[…]

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