In a world where personal information can be easily accessed by our banks, employers, physicians and even complete strangers, it’s no wonder we are concerned about privacy. This is especially true in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, where patient health information must be shared and concealed at the same time.
Enter blockchain technology, best known for powering Bitcoin, to change the way data is shared. At the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, Canadian chapters of Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM announced that they will work together to bring blockchain into the clinical trial space.
Blockchain is a shared ledger that can track the movement of any asset between network participants. Each transaction can be verified and traced easily, making fraud virtually impossible. For businesses, this simplifies transactions, increases operational efficiencies, offers better security and privacy, and saves both time and money. These same principles can be applied to clinical data sharing.
“We’ve been using blockchain in other industries, and we are now investigating how we can use this technology to give Canadian patients the same level of security and trust when it comes to their personal health information,” said Claude Guay, General Manager of IBM Services at IBM Canada in a press release.
When it comes to clinical trials, much more is at stake than leaked patient information. Inaccurate trial records can put patient safety at risk and ultimately skew trial results.
Many pharma companies and biotech start-ups have begun to explore the applications of blockchain. Last year, TimiHealth launched TimiDNA, a blockchain-powered ecosystem that allows people to upload and sell their DNA data to healthcare and pharma companies. This move followed news of GlaxoSmithKline buying consumer DNA data from biotech company, 23andMe. According to TimiHealth, blockchain technology will help consumers to “fully control who sees your personal data and to determine how it is used.”
The partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM marks the first application of blockchain technology to clinical research. In an interview with FierceBiotech, vice president of medical and regulatory affairs at Boehringer Ingelheim, Dr. Uli Brodl, said the pilot project will compare blockchain with traditional study methods.
Adopting blockchain technologies will hopefully save money from healthcare data breaches, which cost $380 per patient record, according to Global Market Insights. The largest healthcare data breach in the US of 2018 occurred at AccuDoc Solutions, which exposed the health records of over 2.6 million people.
Integrating blockchain technology will require an IT overhaul and a skilled team to maintain it, therefore widespread adoption won’t occur overnight. While blockchain is still fairly new to the pharma industry, many see cost savings and operational efficiencies ahead of the learning curve. MedicalStartups lists 12 healthcare startups using blockchain technology – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
According to Mohamad Zahreddine, the CIO at TrialAssure and member of Forbes Technology Council, blockchain was practically built for the pharmaceutical industry, and companies should see it as “an immense opportunity to make every part of the life cycle better – for sponsors, service producers, supply chain, and most importantly, patients.”