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Pharma Backs Blockchain

Blockchain – also known as “distributed ledger technology” (DLT) – is essentially a big record book. A DLT acts as a decentralized, digital journal where transactions and data are recorded across many computers or nodes, so records cannot be altered retroactively or individually. Data or transactions are stored in “blocks” on a blockchain, and it is considered a highly secure way of storing information. Blockchain technology was originally developed for use in the financial services industry, and is now piquing the interest of other sectors that require a secure and scalable system for data storage – such as pharma.

Some pharma companies are already using blockchain to safeguard drug provenance, manage inventories and provide an auditable drug trail. And in a recent Pistoia Alliance survey of life sciences leaders, over two thirds (68 percent) said that their organization is aware of blockchain or currently experimenting with its uses (1). As a result, a large majority (83 percent) of life science leaders believe blockchain will be adopted in the industry within the next five years. However, despite this early adoption, concerns remain over regulation and a lack of industry-wide standards. The survey found that the biggest barriers to blockchain adoption, as identified by life science leaders, are regulatory issues (45 percent), followed by concerns over data privacy (26 percent).

“In an industry conscious of the need to adhere to legislation, and cognizant of the very personal, sensitive data it has access to, it is the lack of regulation that is hampering adoption,” says Nick Lynch, a Consultant at The Pistoia Alliance. Lynch argues that industry-wide standards will need to be developed and agreed to realize the potential of blockchain. “A patient’s genomic data could be stored in ‘blocks’ on a blockchain. Standards for the format of its storage (i.e. how data is ‘written’) will be needed, or data will not be usable or interoperable,” says Lynch. “Further, standards for access and sharing are essential to maintain security and privacy. The industry must come together and collaborate to develop these standards.”

The survey also found that more than two thirds (68 percent) of life science leaders surveyed believe blockchain will have the greatest impact on the pharma supply chain. 60 percent of respondents believed blockchain will have the most use in storing medical records, including genomic data. “This is particularly notable given that genomic data is the fastest growing dataset in the world,” says Lynch.

Lynch adds that the shift in power from medical practitioner to patient will also impact the uptake of blockchain. “Empowered patients have cheap and ready access to their genomic profile or ancestral history for as little as $100 – and they will want to manage this personal data the same way they manage their bank accounts,” says Lynch. “Blockchain will support this by offering patients access to, and control over, how their data is used. In the future, patients could even monetize access to their personal data, giving individual companies access to ‘blocks’ of their data for research purposes. This shift is changing the entire model of healthcare from early R&D all the way to frontline delivery.”

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  1. Pistoia Alliance, “83% of life science leaders believe blockchain will be adopted within five years, finds survey from the Pistoia Alliance”, (2017). Available at: Last accessed June 28, 2017.
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.


From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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