Blockchain for drugs: IBM, Walmart pilot prescription medication tracking

KPMG and Merck are among the companies that will collaborate in an FDA program to evaluate using blockchain to protect pharmaceutical products.

Blockchain: Top 4 challenges CIOs face With hype around blockchain fading, organizations are starting to seek out use cases for the technology, according to Gartner.

IBM, Walmart, KPMG, and Merck were chosen by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to run a pilot project using blockchain to identify, track, and trace prescription medications and vaccines distributed in the US, the companies announced Thursday.  

The pilot—in support of the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)—is meant to explore the ways blockchain technology can quickly identify suspicious products and speed the recall process when needed for the future, according to a press release.

SEE: What is blockchain? Understanding the technology and the revolution (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Blockchain can improve the patient experience, allowing them to scan a barcode to immediately determine if a prescription is counterfeit, the release noted. The technology can also determine if drugs are stored at the required temperatures as they move throughout the supply chain.

"Our supply chain strategy, planning and logistics are built around the customers and patients we serve," Craig Kennedy, senior vice president of supply chain at Merck, said in the release. "Reliable and verifiable supply helps improve confidence among all the stakeholders we serve—especially patients—while also strengthening the foundation of our business."

Working together, IBM, Merck, Walmart, and KPMG will create a shared permissioned blockchain network in which all can monitor prescription drugs and vaccines in real time. This is meant to reduce the time needed to track and trace inventory, increase the accuracy of data shared, and determine the integrity of products in the distribution chain, the release noted.

IBM and Walmart already have blockchain pilots underway to trace food safety. As the hype around the distributed ledger technology settles down, adoption is steadily increasing, according to Gartner research, moving from about 1% of organizations running product pilots to 3.3% in the past year. Companies are increasingly looking to integrate blockchain into existing supply chain systems to establish a permanent record.
 
"Blockchain's innate ability within a private, permissioned network to provide an 'immutable record' makes it a logical tool to deploy to help address DSCSA compliance requirements," Arun Ghosh, KPMG blockchain leader, said in the release. "The ability to leverage existing cloud infrastructure is making enterprise blockchain increasingly affordable and adaptable, helping drug manufacturers, distributors and dispensers meet their patient safety and supply chain integrity goals."

The pilot project will be complete in Q4 2019, and results will be published in an FDA DSCSA program report.

For more, check out What is blockchain? And 5 other questions your boss needs answered ASAP on TechRepublic.

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