Blockchain for precision medicine
The road towards precision medicine, developing medication as targeted as possible, is an extremely complex and lengthy process. We took a look at how blockchain related technologies could positively impact and help speed up this process. We’ve identified 6 key areas where blockchain could substantially improve it:
- Build trust
- Access data
- Reward behaviour
- Accelerate drug development
- Finance development
In this second part, we will tackle area’s 4 to 6. Missed the first part? You can read it here.
The healthcare ecosystem extends to many more partners than strict medical ones. Factors influencing healthcare are all around us: the place you live, the workplace, the grocery store, the gym, the school, the commute, … Measuring the influence of those factors might look no different than mere collecting data as handled in the second chapter. But the emphasis in this chapter is more about exchanging data between meaningful partners, in a frictionless way, in order to create delightful services or experiences.
One ‘simple’ practical example to illustrate this.
Imagine being rewarded with a discount on healthy foods at the supermarket if you’ve taken your medication on time and if you’ve done 10K steps the previous day. The discount is paid by your insurer, a sports fashion brand, a pharmaceutical company and the producer of healthy food. Think about a supermarket becoming your personal coach, giving individual advice on your purchases that influence your health.
Social determinants make up 40% of healthcare, personal behavior is another 30% of healthcare, and the actual clinical care is just 20% (10% are other factors). Companies having access to the data of the first two, have a higher statistical probability to influence behaviour.
Are you aware Walmart is aiming for access of these first 2? By the way, Walmart is not alone. Also in India retailers are looking to enter the healthcare space. Flipkart acquired Sasta Sundar (working with more than 490 pharmacies). This will result in a new vertical called Flipkart Health+. Some more examples of less obvious companies entering the healthcare market are fitness company CrossFit offering primary care and Walgreens boosting a stake in primary-care company VillageMD with a $5.2 billion investment. And also Amazon is increasing its efforts in the healthcare arena. Just as they built data centers to satisfy their e-commerce needs and later sold access to this infrastructure (AWS), so is Amazon looking to market a healthcare service it built first for its workers’ benefit. It recently announced Hilton, with 141K employees, as a key customer.
It seems like every company is becoming a healthcare company. Enter blockchain. Interconnecting data sources of those companies in a secure, private and frictionless way seriously leverages the power of their individual knowledge and can be fertile ground for sustainable new business models. Building trust (chapter 1) is the foundation of such collaborations and will pave the way for pharmaceutical companies to get access to these (anonymous) data points for use in trials, building digital twins and synthetic data. Furthermore, plugging in to such an interconnected system, creates the opportunity to coach people or to give warnings when certain foods interact with drugs. Collaborations leading to precision medicine via blockchain principles.
The Boson Protocol might offer the tools to build such an interconnected network. It extracts minimal fees, and is owned by the participants in the system, so that all share in the value that is created. Also various forms of smart contracts are building blocks to stitch information together around a patient. Smart contracts are pieces of code that securely store information, control access (authentication) and self-execute when certain preset criteria are met. Due to this automated process, blockchain can handle large amounts of transactions, even on an individual level, bringing precision medicine closer.
5 ACCELERATE DRUG DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPLY CHAIN
Blockchain can play a major role in removing frictions and disintermediation, not only horizontally across collaborations with various external partners (see previous chapter 4), but also within one single company in a vertical way.
- LedgerDomain empowers fast, personalized and secure transactions. More specifically they provide their software to Kitchain, a robust collaborative solution for pharmaceutical clinical supply chains, powered by blockchain. KitChain is a iPhone app designed to create an immutable digital record for inventory and event tracking in the pharmaceutical clinical supply chain.
- Embleema is a virtual platform designed to accelerate drug development. Users are recruited to digitally consent to the safe and controlled collection of medical data, which is then stored on Embleema’s blockchain.
- The startup Servblock is building a blockchain-based platform that digitises and automates the process of material verification and tracing. The company tracks materials across the manufacturing and supply chain using sensors and labels to track each component.
- Triall uses world-class blockchain technology to secure clinical trial data, and to improve efficiency, trust, and regulatory compliance for all parties involved.
- Nebula Genomics (recently acquired by ProPhase) uses distributed ledger technology to eliminate unnecessary expenses and middlemen in the genetic study process. On top of disintermediation, Nebula Genomics aims to build a huge genetic database and encourages users to securely sell their encrypted genetic data.
6 FINANCE PRECISION DRUG DEVELOPMENT
On top of the cost savings through removing frictions as described in the former chapter, there are several other ways blockchain can influence your P&L, mainly to foot the bill of a new initiative in drug development.
- One could get funds for research of a new project by selling NFT’s; like artwork, a piece of early code, historical patents, genome data of the researcher involved, etc. Such digital objects should be considered as collector items.
- A special mention regarding NFT’s is that -apart from the more memorabilia-like- NFT’s in the previous point, they are also used as a way to monetise IP. For example Blockchain Pharmaceuticals, a Decentralised Finance (DeFi) company and NFT Marketplace for pharmaceutical, life, and nutrition scientists and engineers. They pair engineering projects with investors, enabling them to develop together in an entirely new way, democratically developing life-changing pharmaceutical products, all with an innovative emphasis on need over profit.
- Alternatively, research departments could find funds for projects that are too risky, like the Innovative medicines initiative (also see “PharmaLedger” in chapter 1).
- While previous points deal with finding money, this point is about cutting costs in the process of splitting the bill over several ecosystem players (as briefly mentioned in chapter 3). The cost of getting or keeping someone healthy is mostly split across several parties: hospital, HCP’s, insurance, government, … This process creates a lot of friction and paperwork between siloed partners, resulting in a very cumbersome and costly process. Blockchain, and smart contracts (see chapter 4) in particular, can securely connect ecosystem partners, dramatically streamline the entire procedure, and free up resources for other purposes. On top of that the total initial investment for development and research might be too high for one single party. But splitting up the total cost over different partners should make the investment more surmountable.
Apart from the sometimes controversial character of blockchain and certainly its carbon footprint (which are both gradually being solved), we encourage drug development companies to take a deep dive in blockchain related technologies to get acquainted with the techniques used. As described there are 6 ways blockchain can lead to precision medicine. If the amount of “blockchain investments” would be a proxy for the potential of these technologies, we would even recommend doing more than only taking a deep dive.
Do contact us for a much broader inspirational exploration of the examples mentioned here. In the meantime don’t forget to subscribe to the most delightful newsletter in life science and healthcare or visit our solution libraries.