Featured Article: Insureblocks Podcast Ep. 166

Two PharmaLedger members were invited to speak on the podcast Insureblocks and discussed the past, present and future state of our project.

Insureblocks is a blockchain dedicated podcast that covers distributed ledger technology (DLT) and smart contracts. Its host Walid Al Saqqaf, who is also a member of our External Expert Advisory Board, invited PharmaLedger’s Industry Lead Daniel Fritz (Novartis) and Architecture and Reference Implementation Co-Lead Marco Cuomo (Novartis) to talk about our project. In addition to speaking about the history of PharmaLedger, Daniel and Marco dived into some of the key aspects of the blockchain platform that is in progress, various challenges and the future state of the project. Here are some key takeaways from the podcast discussion:

Blockchain Explained

Daniel first introduced blockchain with the five A’s (blockchain technology features):

  1. Assets (various; like cryptocurrency, healthcare data and medicinal products)
  2. Audit  (immutability, which Marco then stressed is one of the most important factors of blockchain)
  3. Automation (use of smart contracts)
  4. Anonymize (confidentiality of data)
  5. Authority (no central authority)

PharmaLedger Consortium

PharmaLedger’s main goal is to bring value to patients and increase trust in the industry among the various stakeholders that are part of the healthcare ecosystem. The eight use cases under three domains (supply chain, clinical trials, health data) are building the base of the blockchain-enabled platform. The use cases will provide tangible proof and highlight the value added with blockchain in the medical field. You can read more about our project and our use cases by reading the Official PharmaLedger Presentation.

With 29 partners collaborating, the PharmaLedger consortium works together to share risk and develop blockchain-enabled healthcare solutions for the pharmaceutical industry. Even though some of the PharmaLedger partners are competitors, they all have to agree on standards to achieve goals and solutions via our grant agreement. This Coopertition strategy (where competitors collaborate in order to compete) is something that helps move blockchain forward in healthcare.

The PharmaLedger project started to take form as early as 2018 in Basel at a roundtable, where then Novartis joined the idea under the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), with a joint undertaking between the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). 

PharmaLedger Governance

Daniel explained PharmaLedger’s governance structure, where all 29 partners must agree together on any major changes within the project. The next-generation governance structure is still a work-in-progress that both Daniel and Marco both hope that it’ll transform into after the three-year project ends. Next-generation governance requires the answer to: How do we manage a blockchain network, an ecosystem that’s decentralised but still has some sort of political guidance? It’s likely that the different use cases will be tailored with different governances in order for them to work efficiently.

Abstraction Layer: Open DSU

One area discussed was how the PharmaLedger blockchain platform works. Marco explained that the consortium is working to use an existing blockchain platform that needs to be flexible with any current or emerging technology. In order to be interoperable, PharmaLedger is building an abstraction layer that separates the applications from the blockchain. Each use case can choose its own blockchain technology and network (public, private or hybrid). “We need an abstraction layer in between to leverage different features and not reinvent every time,” explained Marco. 

This abstraction layer allows each use case to choose its own blockchain technology as the project unfolds, which is done by the Open Data Sharing Unit (DSU): off-chain storage. You can’t store everything directly on a blockchain, which would go against GDPR regulations and leads to scalability problems. The Open DSU allows different applications to easily access data and it also addresses interoperability issues. The abstraction layer also supports different identity systems that check authenticity. This allows organisations and users to stay in control of their own identities.

Current Impact and Future of the Project

When asked about how COVID-19 affected the PharmaLedger project, Daniel mentioned how the Electronic Product Information (ePI) use case could solve the issues of counterfeit medical products. The IoT (Internet of Things) use case is also relevant to remote hospital care since the pandemic increased the need for patients to remain at home. Another result was the need for hyper collaboration, as medical companies started to work closely together to fill the high demand for vaccines. The pandemic has definitely reflected the relevance and need of various PharmaLedger use cases.

By the end of 2022, the three-year PharmaLedger project will come to an end, but that doesn’t mean everything will come to a halt. In addition to achieving the grant agreement with our sponsors, the use cases will be demonstrated in real-life situations. One of our eight use cases is hoped to be in a productive form, which means that it’ll have functional governance established and it’ll be operational. Our project will also lay the foundation of blockchain-enabled healthcare and there is a high possibility that entirely new use cases will develop from this. Although the PharmaLedger grant agreement will come to an end, we hope that the ideas will develop further into building a more efficient and trusted healthcare ecosystem of the future.

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