Published by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, Member of the Artificial Intelligence Select Committee on 30 November 2017
- Our Work
- The Reformer Blog
21 December 2017
Interpol estimates that around one million people die due to counterfeit pharmaceuticals each year. All around the world, medicines are swapped with fake medicine whilst in transit to the consumer. The emerging technology, blockchain, can bring transparency, accountability, and trust to the transportation of medicine to ensure that vital, life-saving medicine reaches the people who need it most.
Currently, as a medicine travels from manufacturer to customer, it is handled by a huge number of logistics companies, subcontractors, and individuals. It is therefore difficult to track an item and assure that it isn’t tampered with.
This lack of transparency and accountability can lead to genuine medicine being swapped for fakes and sold on the black market. The counterfeit medicine travels to consumers who are unaware that the products are potentially ineffective or lethal.
The problem is vast and predominantly affects developing countries. A professional services firm estimated that approximately 450,000 of preventable deaths were caused by fake Malaria medicine.
The Pharmaceutical industry is responding to this. Failures in the current system are reflected by the amount of counterfeit medicine being uncovered; 20 million pills were seized over five months by authorities. Equally, regulators are enforcing new barcoding measures to discourage counterfeiters; unfortunately, these don’t provide a unique identity and easy replication of packaging.
A blockchain solution
Companies such as Qadre are developing a blockchain-enabled solution. Individual pharmaceutical products are manufactured using an innovative tamper-proof NFC (Near Field Communication technology) chip, the same technology that exists within contactless cards., It is encrypted with a unique digital identity generated by the blockchain. The physical object is then traced down the supply chain – being verified at every stage of transit by human or digital verification, i.e. scanning the chip and digitally confirming that the physical item is still intact and located where it should be.
If the packaging has been tampered with, the chip will not respond to scanning, and the authorities will be able to determine the segment of the supply chain where the theft / tampering / switching-out took place and who was most likely responsible. This will not only enable greater accountability, but it might dissuade bad behaviours by illustrating it is much easier to be caught tampering with products.
Every time each unit is verified, the digital signature of the authoriser is stored into the blockchain database, along with any relevant metadata of the time, location, state of the items. Information stored on a blockchain cannot be changed once it has been stored, meaning that the records will automatically reject amendments if a rogue actor tries to retrospectively change the records.
Scanning each individual unit at each check-in point would be exceptionally cumbersome. However, each pharma packet could be assigned with a cheap NFC chip, these could then be packaged into huge containers, sealed with a more expensive and resilient chip. The larger chip would fail to register its identity if the container had been opened and the shipment compromised – meaning that if it remains intact and responding to scanning, one can assume the entire shipment inside remains uncompromised. Upon distribution, the end products can be verified by the consumer through scanning the packet with a smartphone.
Typically, supply chain software is siloed and centralised – meaning no parties have a complete, real-time view of how products are moving down the supply chain. Blockchains are architected in a way that multiple parties can have full (or partial) visibility of the real-time location and state of the product down the supply chain.
By leveraging the unique benefits of blockchain technology, companies like Qadre have created a service that not only allows the key actors to have real-time data on the product, greater security, and increased ROI, but it also ensures that each and every medicine is used as it was intended – to save lives.
Qadre is a blockchain platform managing identity and trust in a digital world