Part I – Current status, Impact on the Industry
The use of Blockchain for the pharmaceutical industry has been speculated and discussed by many different entities and stakeholders for quite some time already. Blockchain is thought to address the burning platforms pressuring the pharmaceutical industry, and to possibly optimize its supply chain operations.
The burning platform in the pharmaceutical industry
The one big burning question in this context is whether the pharmaceutical industry is ever going to embrace the long awaiting digital revolution, or if they are going to bundle their forces in the act to avoid the inevitable? Although pharmaceutical R&D is driven by innovation, this feature is not so much blended into their general activities and operational processes. Already being one of the most conventional and traditional industries, the organizational hierarchy and strong fragmentation of the pharmaceutical industry only further strains the ability of companies to embrace novel technologies, such as Blockchain. Responsibility of patient health and safety carried by the pharmaceutical industry makes stakeholders rather hesitant towards novel technologies and rules out the opportunity of a trial-and-error-like implementation approach of technologies.
Blockchain in pharma, fighting the falsified instead of diseases
Regardless of their ignorance, the pharmaceutical industry has already been confronted with multiple burning platforms. Counterfeit is a continuously increasing problem across the pharmaceutical supply chain, conveying major consequences for patient health and company performance. Counterfeit products either contain a too high or too low concentration of the active ingredient, reducing the clinically proven efficacy of the product. Apart from a deviating dosage, counterfeit products may contain excipients being different from those displayed on the package, which may affect the efficacy of the active ingredient or cause unpredicted side-effects to patients after administration. Although in most cases this may only cause modest discomfort for the patient, in other cases counterfeit products can cause severe adverse events and lead to hospitalization or even lethality in its extreme. It is therefore necessary to eliminate pharmaceutical counterfeit, the sooner the better. To facilitate the pharmaceutical fight of the falsified, governments have enacted serialization regulations, obligating the pharmaceutical industry to make each individual product traceable along the entire supply chain. This allows every stakeholder to, at any given point in the process, confirm the authenticity of the product.
Trust, the challenge & the opportunity
Circulation of illegitimate pharmaceutical products does not only put patient health and safety at stake, but also has a damaging impact on the business operations of pharmaceutical companies. As long as counterfeit keeps on existing, pharmaceutical companies are not able to assure quality and safety of their products. This has an eroding effect on their reputation as perceived by the patient as well as by other influential stakeholders, such as physicians, specialists, pharmacies, and regulatory bodies.
The inability of pharmaceutical companies to deliver product quality and safety has a direct effect on their revenue.
A decline in trust has a diminishing effect on sales. Additionally, sales of counterfeit products take away the incremental revenue of pharmaceutical companies. Thus, apart from protecting patient safety and product quality, the pharmaceutical industry is in an overwhelming need to safeguard and protect its reputation and revenue.
Curing the pharma counterfeit
Counterfeit products are incredibly difficult to identify by the naked eye, making it complicated to reveal and eliminate these products by human efforts solely. A technological tool with the capacity to enable end-to-end traceability could cure this pain point. Technically, Blockchain has the capacity to completely revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry, its processes, but above all to address the burning platforms and cure counterfeit. Its immutable character makes mutual trust and the need for intermediary parties redundant, while safeguarding secure storage and exchange of sensitive information.
Practically, however, unaligned objectives of industry stakeholders, a lack of trust in the technology itself, and the absence of willingness and often the guts to further explore the opportunities of Blockchain stagnates the utilization of these capacities.
As clearly described in Enterprise Blockchain: Are We There Yet? by Sebastian Wurst (Accenture Strategy, Munich), the unique value and at the same time the challenge is in developing a Blockchain solution that perfectly fits an enterprise setting. The abstractness and technical complexity should be converted into a commercial concept, in order to fully unlock Blockchain’s business value for any industry, and the pharmaceutical industry here in specific.
Blockchain in pharma: No success until mass adoption?
Along the way of praising Blockchain’s potential, we should not forget to touch upon the expected – disruptive – impact of Blockchain on company business models. Given the comparatively low extent of industry digitalization, current business models of pharmaceutical companies do not inherently support the implementation of a highly complex and abstract technology as Blockchain. Although some believe that Blockchain-enabled business models are on the rise, others recognize the need for only small adjustments to be made by the industry to successfully integrate Blockchain in their processes.
The largest adjustment required is said to be targeted at the mindset and core values lived up to by industry stakeholders and employees.
Cooperation, interoperability, and transparency are not naturally fostered by the pharmaceutical industry, being in an almost direct opposition to the core concepts of Blockchain. Additional education on Blockchain would increase the understanding of the technology, and possibly mitigate the risk anticipated to come with implementation. Altogether, the pharmaceutical industry may expect to be confronted with many different challenges along the way to adoption, making the successfulness of Blockchain an uncertain parameter. To address these challenges, it will require strong incentives to encourage and solid recommendations to point the pharmaceutical industry in the right direction and unlock the synergy between business and technology.
With a background in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Marlou is currently in the last stage of the Master’s program Science and Business Management, pursuing her passion of unlocking the synergy between life science and business. Her ambition is to improve and strengthen the collaborative relationship of life science and business development, through encouraging communication and cooperation between the different fields. After finalizing her graduate internship at Accenture Strategy, The Netherlands, focusing on the potential of Blockchain for the pharmaceutical supply chain, Marlou is starting a PhD in human psychopharmacology at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia, striving for the aspired career in the pharmaceutical industry.