FDA picks IBM, Merck, Walmart for blockchain project to improve drug supply safety


RFESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The Food and Drug Administration is looking to improve safety of the nation’s drug supply and thinks blockchain could be a help. Three of the nation’s largest firms from tech to drug development to retail will be part of the project.

IBM, a pacesetter in emerging blockchain technology, will work alongside drug giant Merck and retailer Walmart, the FDA announced Thursday.

A blockchain  is a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography.Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data, according to Wikipedia.

The program is part of  the U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) passed by Congress.

The FDA announced in February to pursue new technologies to develop a new system that “will be aimed at reducing diversion of drugs distributed domestically and will help keep counterfeit drugs from entering the supply chain, and ultimately, reaching patients.”

“Blockchain could provide an important new approach to further improving trust in the biopharmaceutical supply chain,” said Mark Treshock, IBM Global Solutions Leader for Blockchain in Healthcare & Life Sciences, in the announcement. “We believe this is an ideal use for the technology because it can not only provide an audit trail that tracks drugs within the supply chain; it can track who has shared data and with whom, without revealing the data itself. Blockchain has the potential to transform how pharmaceutical data is controlled, managed, shared and acted upon throughout the lifetime history of a drug.”

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The companies noted that the “program is intended to assist drug supply chain stakeholders, including FDA, in developing the electronic, interoperable system that will identify and trace certain prescription drugs as they are distributed within the United States.”

The companies say they will create a “shared permissioned blockchain network that allows real-time monitoring of products.”

Other goals:

  • Help reduce the time needed to track and trace inventory
  • Allow timely retrieval of reliable distribution information
  • Increase accuracy of data shared among network members
  • Help determine the integrity of products in the distribution chain, including whether products are kept at the correct temperature.

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