Magazine Article | September 8, 2017

Source: Life Science Leader

By Camille Mojica Rey, contributing writer

Ask life sciences industry leaders and experts about blockchain, and you will hear it called everything from “a game changer” to “a major disrupter.” According to the hype, the technology behind cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, is going to completely transform day-to-day operations for life sciences companies.

Blockchain technology, which allows the creation of shared digital ledgers, has been touted as a way to increase supply chain security, decrease human error and fraudulence in clinical trials, and improve postmarketing surveillance. And these are just some of the big-picture problems people expect blockchain to resolve. As blockchain technology is developed, few doubt that it will change the way data is collected and shared within companies, as well as between companies and third parties — such as CROs, partners, and regulators.

“Blockchain holds great promise for the life sciences industry,” says George Serafin, national managing principal of Grant Thornton’s Health Care and Life Sciences practices. A 30+ year veteran in the life sciences industry, Serafin was involved in writing a Spring 2017 research report, titled The Future of Growth and the Life Sciences Industry. The report called blockchain a “groundbreaking technology” that “can be leveraged for a variety of solutions across the life sciences value chain.” Serafin says industry leaders need to be clear about what blockchain is and what it is not. “The leadership of more companies needs to become better-educated with respect to blockchain technology. It’s not a silver bullet, and it requires significant investment.”

Pharmaceutical industry leaders agree. They know a blockchain-enabled world is on the way. A 2017 survey conducted by the industry nonprofit the Pistoia Alliance found that 83 percent of the 120 senior pharmaceutical and life science executives they asked expected blockchain to be adopted in less than five years. Still, only 22 percent of life sciences companies in the Pistoia survey were already using or experimenting with blockchain. “The Pistoia Alliance recognized early on that interest in blockchain among life sciences companies was growing rapidly,” says Nick Lynch, a consultant with the organization. As blockchain becomes more widely adopted for storing and sharing data in other sectors, the alliance is responding with educating their members through webinars and special sessions at their annual meetings. Yet their statistics show that the interest has yet to translate into use of blockchain. That’s likely because many questions remain unanswered for the average executive: 1) What exactly is blockchain? 2) How can it be applied, both within a company and industrywide? and 3) How do companies prepare for this blockchain-enabled world?

UNDERSTANDING BLOCKCHAIN
Fundamental knowledge is necessary if pharmaceutical industry leaders are to have a more accurate understanding of what blockchain can realistically do and in what time frame. However, the hype around blockchain has resulted in a phenomenon in which few people are willing to admit they don’t actually understand how it works. “Not many people understand blockchain enough to tell you what it can …

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