New joint venture to develop blockchain technology for pharma industry
Chronicled, Inc. and The LinkLab LLC have announced The MediLedger Project, a joint venture that will explore and develop blockchain solutions for the pharmaceutical industry.
The project is primarily aimed at demonstrating compliance with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), utilising innovative capabilities found with blockchain technology to track and trace prescription medicines.
The project seeks to demonstrate the ability to prevent counterfeit medicines from entering the supply chain.
The DSCSA requires the industry to adopt an "interoperable system" to manage records of ownership and transfer of prescription drugs in the United States, and they feel strongly that blockchain technology could be best suited to do this.
In release, the joint venture said “blockchain offers a number of unique advantages over older technologies. Every time an asset is registered, verified, or transferred on a blockchain, a distributed network of validation "nodes" come to consensus, making it exceedingly difficult for malicious actors to fabricate or tamper with the event logs.
“Therefore, it is much more secure than existing central database solutions, which are vulnerable to hacking and data addition or deletion by a central administrator, and allows for a level of data provenance that has not been possible within current frameworks.”
The MediLedger Project aims to leverage this capability to create an interoperable system in which multiple parties, including manufacturers, wholesale distributors, hospitals, and pharmacies can register, verify, and transfer pharmaceutical products with absolute trust in their authenticity and provenance.
This represents a “major step forward” in regulatory transparency and consumer safety and signifies an important step forward in the application of blockchain technology to the biopharmaceutical industry.
“Traditional, centralised databases are like castles with moats,” said Chronicled CEO Ryan Orr.
“You can fortify them as much as you want, but a hacker will always find a clever way to sneak inside the castle. Blockchain introduces a whole new paradigm.
“It's a distributed network, data is cryptographically secured, a breach in one node has no effect on the whole, and the consensus mechanism prevents malicious actors from tampering the system. That's one of the things that's really revolutionary about this technology."
The MediLedger Project has aspirations beyond helping to enable pharmaceutical companies to achieve DSCSA compliance. The participants hope to use their system to help fundamentally move the industry forward in improving drug security and preventing the production and trafficking of counterfeit and illicit drugs globally.
By year end, they plan to have demonstrated, through a series of milestones, the advantages of a blockchain system as the best way forward for this significant use case.
The project has formed a working group of pharmaceutical industry leaders, which include Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Pfizer, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson Corporation.
The working group defined the industry requirements for the blockchain pilot, both for a prototype system and for an industry operating model. The group has met the first hurdle: building a prototype system for the registration and verification of medicines on the blockchain while keeping all business information private from other participants. The next effort will be focused on developing business models and operating requirements.
“The immediate goal for us is to show that blockchain is the best solution for this need,” said Susanne Somerville, co-Founder of The LinkLab. “We are aiming to have done that by the end of the year. After that, the sky's the limit.”
Upgrading RFID and Automated Track and Trace Solutions
During the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chains faced the challenge of rapidly adjusting their business priorities to new customer preferences. Local supplier backlogs, winter storms, and the Suez Canal backup in March underscored the need for efficiency and visibility across the supply chain.
According to Christof Backhaus, Digital Lead Product Supply and Smart Label Project Lead at Bayer, companies must now place critical importance on tracking and tracing their products. “All large enterprises in the world dealing with finished goods,” he said, “seek functional and technical solutions to real-time channel inventory.”
Indeed, RFID’s real-time tracking data allows executives to make quick, well-informed decisions in moments of supply chain crisis - and rather than unfolding across days or weeks, it only takes a matter of minutes.
Why does RFID remain relevant despite digital disruption?
Essentially, RFID uses radio frequency waves to transfer data wirelessly between a scanner and a tag. In contrast to barcode technology, which requires a stationary scanner, RFID tags can be pinged from anywhere in the world, allowing companies to track real-time movement through the supply chain. RFID tags can also scan unique SKU numbers and distinguish between varying product sizes, colours, and styles: a critical feature for increasingly personalised end-user products.
Though the first patent for RFID tags appeared in 1973, higher accuracy rates, lower costs, and advances in sensor and data technology have made it newly accessible to a wide range of companies. Today, the technology is used in logistics networks, manufacturing and delivery networks in the pharmaceutical industry, and any business where efficiently tracking and monitoring product location is critical: raw materials, consumer products, cars, electronics, retail, and agriculture.
What are the key benefits?
Overall, automated track and trace solutions keep labour costs low, optimise operating costs, mitigate security risks, use capital effectively, and assist companies in adhering to regulatory requirements.
Below are three in-depth dives into how RFID benefits major industries:
- Pharmaceuticals: RFID tags help manufacturers safeguard sensitive products such as vaccines, tracking where they are and when they will arrive in real-time. Sensors closely monitor temperatures to ensure regulatory compliance. If anyone tampers with a shipment, the sensors alert the company.
- Logistics: RFID identifies process gaps and frequent anomalies by monitoring a product’s lifecycle from shipment to delivery. This data helps decision-makers predict the most efficient routes and therefore optimise their distribution schedules.
- Retail: Sensors help guard shipments against theft and provide critical intelligence when shipments go missing. Before adopting RFID technology in 2203, UK retailer Marks and Spencer relied on barcodes to scan inventory. When they made the switch, their productivity increased from a maximum of 400-600 items scanned per hour to up to 15,000 items scanned per hour. Building on their initial success, the retailer expanded the use of the technology and is still using it today.
Regardless of the industry, RFID promotes accuracy, immediacy, and efficiency. Companies reduce human error by automatically scanning products, keep track of inventory even in geographic locations with poor connectivity, and help streamline warehouse operations by identifying exact product locations.
Which recent innovations have changed the game?
With recent developments in cloud technology and IoT, a multitude of cloud-based alternatives have emerged to challenge traditional RFID technology. One of these cutting-edge solutions is Sony’s Smart Label - an intelligent shipping label that runs on AT&T’s global cellular network.
As with any good innovation, Sony’s proprietary technology started with a customer need ready to be solved: the Bayer Crop Science Division lacked an international IoT solution that could track seed products from start to finish throughout its distribution channel. Millions of dollars of revenue stood at stake, so Bayer turned to Sony to develop a smart label that would set the organisation up to manage its supply chain with end-to-end visibility.
Sony’s printable and disposable adhesive label allows companies to track the condition and location of their products worldwide and act upon the vast amounts of data it collects. The process is simple: the label activates when attached to the package, connects to AT&T’s secure LTE-M network, and sends data to the Smart Label Cloud in real time.
In sharp contrast to other smart label solutions that place trust in a patchwork combination of Wi-Fi, radio-frequency identification, and other limited coverage connections, the Sony Smart Label connects solely through a secure and universally-available cellular network. “Working with Sony,” says Robert Boyanovsky, the vice president of Mobility, IoT and 5G at AT&T, “we provide full visibility of every item shipped.”
Most importantly for companies on the edge, the Smart Label integrates with existing enterprise systems to achieve full visibility, thus adding value without disrupting supply chain process flow.
Why is this important now?
Companies that previously delayed introducing RFID and other automated track-and-trace technologies can capitalise on recent developments that lower costs, improve accuracy, and supercharge traceability.
Clearly the technology has value in today’s uncertain global marketplace, and can help decrease the costs of tracking goods. To quote Christof Backhaus, the Project Lead at Bayer, “the Smart Label indicates how much product is in the market, from the packaging line to the end customer.” Companies no longer have to spend a small fortune to take advantage of recent IoT developments. “Due to the technical composition [of the label],” Backhaus explains, “we don’t require additional infrastructure, manual scanning, or other expensive tools.”
Over the decades since RFID was first introduced, support for introducing it to company supply chains has also improved. AT&T’s IoT Professional Services Organisation, for example, supports companies through the end-to-end design and integration process--from installation to deployment and project management.
Companies that invest in traceable and visible supply chain solutions stand the best chance of survival, adjusting in real-time to natural disasters, shipping backups, and slowed-down supplier turnarounds as a result of the global pandemic. “Smart Label promises to help businesses like Bayer realise the full potential of the IoT,” says AT&T’s Boyanovsky. “[We can] deliver improvements in revenue and cost savings and make supply chains more efficient.”
Certainly, company executives will be hard-pressed to ignore recent innovations. In an age of uncertainty, RFID and its challengers herald a welcome sense of supply chain security. The next step? “Our sales team,” Boyanovsky adds, “is prepared to engage with prospective customers now.”