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Disrupting the pharma development process with blockchain

Thorough the use a token, the process it provides patients with a way to get governance over the intellectual property in the medicines they need.

Variations on a common tablet design, which can be distinguished by both colour and shape. — Photo by Ragesoss (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Variations on a common tablet design, which can be distinguished by both colour and shape. — Photo by Ragesoss (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Insulin costs around $6,000 annually for an insured individual in the U.S., a consequence of the country’s for-profit healthcare system. To get around this aspect of the government not enacting a fair and equitable healthcare system, alternative ideas are being considered. In relation to insulin, one such idea is the collective ownership by diabetics of the therapy.

It has been more than 40 years since drug development has changed from systems (heart, liver, spleen) to molecular medicine (targeted therapies). However, the pharmaceutical business model has not significantly shifted.

In relation to insulin specifically, the most commonly used forms of insulin is estimated to cost ten time more in the U.S. than in any other high-income country. The “Big Three” pharmaceutical companies that produce 90 percent of the insulin in the U.S. are Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi Aventis.

The situation for many diabetics is precarious. For example: “You don’t know if you will have enough of a freaking liquid that your whole life depends on. You don’t know if you have enough life. That’s what being not sure if you can afford your insulin means” said Marina Tsaplina in a Business Insider article.

Yet there are alternative models, provided that the pharmaceutical world is prepared to innovate. This requires the need to avoid duplication and internal conflicts across multi-billion-dollar organizations discourage initiative and create an unsupportable level of overhead.

Increasing innovation will require a complete restructuring of the industry and other technology-driven industries have undergone multiple generations of change. All industries and business models follow the law of diminishing returns, and many industries have come and gone through history. In fact, the pharma industry itself sprouted out from the terminal decline of the chemicals and dye industry as it was slowly commoditized.

A new breakthrough with insulin treatment could be one funded by diabetics who believe in it and stand to benefit the most from it.

The idea is for a  new type of organization, and such an organization has been formed. This is a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) that exists on a blockchain. Such an organization is decentralized and therefore does not have a central point of failure.

VitaDAO is the first organization to tackle biomedical research. Thorough the use a token, the process it provides patients with a way to get governance over the intellectual property in the medicines they need.  With this DAO, those working on new therapies and anyone who provides valuable work or resources can be financially empowered through tokens, becoming an active participant.

The idea is that by decentralizing intellectual property ownership the investment and capital injections can happen at an earlier stage and new open commercialization models can incentivize their development.

The VitaDAO model enables fundraising through alternative routes. Here, the public can get mobilized towards a new approach to medicine, that’s not designed to keep them buying drugs to just manage the symptoms of the chronic diseases that are associated with age, but rather prevent cellular degeneration, which is the major risk factor for most chronic diseases.  Cell and gene therapies, regenerative medicine approaches have the potential to completely change the way the world provides medical care.

The aim is for the experimental architecture to solve some of the problems presented, and in the long run perhaps all of them by creating entirely new, open, intellectual property business models.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, 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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