Part II – how/ practicalities
On the bright side, Blockchain is expected to totally transform the pharmaceutical industry far beyond compliance. In addition to eliminating counterfeit, reassuring patient safety, adhering to regulations, optimizing supply chain operations, and protecting revenue, Blockchain is expected to standardize and automate multiple procedures, making an intermediary party redundant.
The patient in the lead of the supply chain
The patient will be put at the lead of the supply chain, allowing a more direct patient-stakeholder interaction, and is thought to facilitate the trend of personalized medicine, by making real-time patient data accessible to pharmaceutical companies. Combined with optimal utilization of analytics, pharmaceutical companies can better meet the patient demand and more directly reach their target market. This not only eases entrance barriers of market penetration, but also provides the opportunity to restrict premium pricing. The ‘pay-for-efficacy’ principle allows the price of a pharmaceutical product to be set according to the – relative – efficacy of a pharmaceutical product. This shows similarity with the ‘no cure no pay’ principle, requiring pharmaceutical companies to even more deliberately invest in secure and stable R&D projects.
Long term vs. short term impact of Blockchain in pharma
The benefits of Blockchain for the pharmaceutical industry may not be directly reflected in their revenues, but for sure have a long term impact with the potential extension to the healthcare sector in providing healthcare of a higher quality and the ability to better shape healthcare according to specific patient needs.
Optimizing impact of Blockchain due to technological add-ons
The optimizing impact of Blockchain can be further utilized by technological add-ons such as smart contracts, sensors, artificial intelligence, and different applications of IoT. Cold-chain logistics is a concrete example of an extended concept of Blockchain, where the integration of sensors and IoT allow supply chain stakeholders to track and confirm the conditions to which the products were exposed. This strongly contributes to the ability to confirm product quality and enables the industry to specifically remove individual products in case of an error, rather than reclamation of entire batches. The bottom line of these improvements is a business case for the pharmaceutical industry, of cost reduction and increased profits, accordingly.
Blockchain: Tangible prove of potential business value
We can easily write a bookwork about the speculations of what Blockchain can and cannot do. However, what we need exactly is not found in speculations, but rather in tangible prove of potential and unlocking of the business value for the pharmaceutical industry. The industry needs to take big and concrete steps towards implementation if they want to benefit from Blockchain’s potential. A concept unknown is a concept unloved, and therefore a critical act is to increase awareness around Blockchain as a technology and break through Blockchain’s technological abstractness.
Penetrating the pharmaceutical ecosystem
Although the core concept of Blockchain has already, to a certain extent, penetrated the pharmaceutical ecosystem, the majority is still unaware of the far-reaching and innovative applicability of Blockchain in digitally transforming the pharmaceutical industry. There are several steps the industry is recommended to follow if they want to unlock the business value of Blockchain for the industry. Education is a primary aspect to address the often existing asymmetry in awareness, knowledge, and understanding of Blockchain as a technology and what it has to offer in terms of potential. Part of getting stakeholders aligned with each other is to get them on the same level of expertise and thus to provide them with the required information. In addition, stakeholder’s hesitative or negative attitude towards Blockchain is to some extent a result of their deviating or wrong perception of Blockchain’s potential and how it works, also in their advantage. A better understanding of the technology would help the industry to better grasp the concept and its application.
Stakeholders intrests at stake
To reach the stakeholders of interest and in the run-up to get them on board, a pharmaceutical consortium should be formed as a starting point. In order to create alignment across the industry, stakeholders will need to discuss their objectives, perspectives, and expectations regarding an implementation of Blockchain. A consortium creates solid ground to further build on a pharmaceutical Blockchain, step by step. Together, stakeholders can determine the pain points that deserve priority in exploring and testing and formulate a consensus as the basis of the Blockchain.
Formulating specific use cases in a fragmented industry
Generally, it is important to determine and formulate specific use cases beforehand. To prevent the industry to come up with a pain point merely to follow the Blockchain hype, there should be focused on the recognition and formulation of specific use cases in the pharmaceutical environment. Specification allows for focused testing of pilots and concepts, generating tailored outcomes rather than standardized parameters that need to be translated to a particular use case. For this to be successful, the operational processes of pharmaceutical companies need to be overseen and frameworked. Given the fragmented nature of pharmaceutical companies, let alone the industry as a whole, achieving adoption is a fairly complicated process.
Mobilizing the pharmaceutical chain
The pharmaceutical industry will need to better cooperate with each other, allowing for change in their processes and behaviors. However, this is not so much of a rational process as it might have been pretended to be. Proving business value and encouraging stakeholders to embrace Blockchain definitely are steps in the right direction, but do not provide a guarantee of the technology to succeed in the pharmaceutical ecosystem. Practically, the conventional, risk-averse nature of the pharmaceutical industry and their need for evolution over revolution may just be difficult to unify with the disruptive, revolutionizing character of Blockchain. This large gap between technology and business may strain industry-wide adoption, even though stakeholders are on board with the solution. Another aspect challenging the implementation of Blockchain, but is difficult to address, is the quality of the input and the data recorded onto the Blockchain. Despite the immutable nature of the technology, the quality of the Blockchain is only as good as the quality of the information that is entered. It will be extremely difficult to qualify the channel where the information enters the Blockchain, which impinges on the promised trustless character of Blockchain.
Conclusion: Blockchain: turning the inevitable into the desirable
All in all, the previously anticipated resistance coming from the pharmaceutical industry is better to be redefined as hesitation to get involved with what is uncertain and unknown. The pharmaceutical industry needs to put the blocks together and build a solid ground to embrace digitalization, which does not imply having to set aside their cautious, hesitative attitude nor their responsibility. A way to go is to invest in education, the formation of a pharmaceutical consortium, and additional testing in the act to unlock Blockchain’s business value for the pharmaceutical industry, to once and forever turn the inevitable into the desirable, and harvest the benefits. Nevertheless, the pharmaceutical industry should keep a critical eye on the anticipated challenges as well as on new emerging technologies that are on their way to overhaul the potential of Blockchain.
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.