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Blockchain technology to equip scientists and drug developers (Includes interview and first-hand account)

In addition to being able to develop blockchain applications with zero-code, scientists can develop simulations to run on the global network of computers. With this, Crowd Machine’s ability to use blockchain can ensure data integrity, security, and privacy.

The platform additionally provides an internal economic incentive to source computational resources so that computations can be done with predictable and reliable performance. These attributes make it possible for decentralized application adoption in computational drug design.

To understand more about the platform, Digital Journal spoke with Dr. Matthew Lee, from Caywon.

Digital Journal: What are the main challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry?

Dr. Matthew Lee: One of the biggest challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry right now is counterfeit drugs. Criminals organisations are able to manufacture and sell drugs via the Internet to unsuspecting buyers. In fact, it is estimated that up to 30% of drugs in circulation could be counterfeit.

This is a big problem that can’t be solved with a silver bullet. However, there’s no doubt that advances in technology can help regulators and consumers to filter the legal manufacturers from the illegal ones. Blockchain has a huge part to play in this process.

DJ: How prevalent are counterfeit drugs?

Lee: It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of drugs in circulation right now could be counterfeit with emerging markets most seriously affected. The counterfeit drugs market is one of the biggest in the world, with sales estimated to range from €150 billion to €200 billion per year.

The effect of these counterfeit drugs is enormous too. According to the World Health Organization, 1 million people die from taking counterfeit drugs every year, while 450,000 preventable malaria deaths are the result of counterfeit drugs.

DJ: How can blockchain technology help with these challenges?

Lee: Blockchain, which is distributed ledger technology, provides a highly secure record of ownership and transactions for any asset that you choose to digitize. Not only that, this record is immutable and virtually impossible to tamper with because of the cryptographic consensus that is used to keep it up to date.

For the problem of counterfeit drugs, blockchain could be a game changer for the pharmaceutical industry. By recording the source of manufactured drugs, as well as the different parties involved in their development and production, regulators and buyers can quickly trace the source of a drug and sort the authentic ones from the counterfeits.

It’s true to say that secure Internet of Things technology, which ensures data being used is true and hasn’t been tampered with at the point of record, is an important component too and these two advances could work to completely eradicate counterfeiting.



DJ: Can it also assist with data integrity, given that this is a hot topic with regulators?

Lee: Absolutely. Data integrity is exactly what the blockchain is all about. As mentioned, it is important that it is used in tandem with the right sort of Internet of Things technology so the data is correct at point of record. When recorded on the blockchain though, this becomes an immutable record of source, ownership and transaction.

Not only that, it’s totally transparent and available to view for anyone that is involved in the network. This is important because, as regulatory standards change in some major parts of the world, it provides individuals, not just regulators with the information to make decisions about the origins of their drugs.

DJ: Why did you select CrowdMachine as your platform?

Lee: Firstly, the no-code development environment that’s available in Crowd Machine will remove the language barrier between our pharma experts and our IT experts. Most domain experts simply did not have information technology as part of their training, so translating their workflow into digital implementation had been challenging at best. When we looked at Crowd Machine’s App Studio, we knew it was going to be a game changer for us. Not only can we build the digital workflow we always wanted, we also have the opportunity to share domain know-how in executable format.

File photo: An employee works at the new state-of the-art DNA laboratory of the International Commis...

File photo: An employee works at the new state-of the-art DNA laboratory of the International Commission on Missing Persons, in The Hague, on October 24, 2017
Sander Koning, ANP/AFP

DJ: Is blockchain technology readily accepted by pharmaceutical companies?

Lee: We’re not alone in terms of being a pharmaceuticals company with domain experts that don’t have coding knowledge. When you consider that blockchain development is still a relatively niche skill within technical circles, I’d be very surprised to hear that many companies are readily accepting blockchain. However, more and more are becoming interested in blockchain’s application in pharma supply chain security.

One of the reasons for this is that, in 2013, the President signed into law the Drug Quality and Security Act (DQSA). This “track and trace” requirement is not just for the U.S. but many major markets all have this requirement. Despite the legal mandate, we are still in the early exploratory stage and the entire industry is still not sure how to implement the technology stack to fully comply with the regulation.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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