When it comes to blockchain technology in R&D, clearly: “It’s All About The Data Sharing”!  This is the main conclusion that has come out from a Pistoia Alliance assessment of blockchain applications in life sciences R&D managed by Richard Shute of Curlew Research for The Alliance.

Over 75 scientists and developers from Big Pharma, informatics software houses and biotechs contributed to the formation of a view on what areas within R&D could be ripe for blockchain-based solutions.  When surveyed, a clear majority pinpointed potential opportunities for blockchain technology to support, enhance and unlock much more collaborative Data Sharing and Data Integrity, in support of the inexorable move towards more open, global, interactive working between organisations.  Blockchain-enabled solutions in this area could give data providers better controlled and more secure access for others to their data, leading to improved chances for the advancement of scientific knowledge and insight.  For data consumers, this would allow them access to “real” data that they would not normally be able to get at.  Solutions in this space could make the aspirational FAIR Data Principles that much more achievable.

Whilst data sharing and integrity came out as highest priority when the community was surveyed, they also identified that blockchain could potentially help with challenges around the clinical trials process and digital identity.

The idea assessment activity, whose final report has recently been published on the publicly accessible IP3 space, generated a number of other key messages.  These included:

  • There is a clear need for further training and education for life sciences personnel — both scientists and developers. Hence there was strong support for an immediate webinar to help less blockchain-knowledgeable folk, and a hackathon for the more advanced, who want to get into some blockchain coding.  We are developing plans for these two events — assuming the membership’s support — with the hackathon being targeted to coincide with this year’s Pistoia Alliance Fall Conference in Boston (watch this space!).
  • Building on the high priority “data sharing” theme, the community expressed a clear desire for some prototype, blockchain-enabled system development to be done so as to “prove” the utility of the technology in this space. A preliminary business case has been generated, proposing a pilot development project to support more and better managed data and file sharing across organisations which hitherto may have been unwilling to exchange such information.  Another highly supported idea was to construct a blockchain app to support feedback to patients during and after clinical trials.
  • When looking at a market map of blockchain tech organisations whose objectives and vision include a focus on data sharing and integrity, it became clear that whilst there are many organisations in this domain, lots of start-ups and consortia are focused on the clinical domain and on blockchain-enabled genomic data management. Very few appear to be in the more traditional pre-clinical and lead discovery areas.  This may be an opportunity for the right use-case and the right blockchain-enabled system.  We shall see!

Finally, in the broader “blockchain in healthcare” field, there are many global initiatives looking at a number of important sub-components of the whole value chain: from improved access to patient electronic health records; to medicines’ supply chain looking to reduce drug counterfeiting; and to digital and decentralised identity to make it more easy to prove you are who you say you are.  One of the report’s final recommendations is that the Pistoia Alliance should more closely engage with other global “blockchain in healthcare” initiatives and consortia.  This would enable, amongst other things:

  • better insight into what these other groups are doing;
  • a better chance to influence where they are going and what they are doing;
  • the Alliance to be the voice of its members in these groups so removing the need for them all to be in every consortium.

The community of interest clearly believes that blockchain technology will directly and significantly impact Life Sciences R&D.  This belief is validated by recent Forbes and Accenture reports, which state that: “Blockchain offers the possibility for trust to be hard coded into the process of collaborative R&D in a way not possible before.” (Forbes) and that “Blockchain will be critical to creating trust in the authenticity and accuracy of what is being shared.” (Accenture).  If you as a member of the Pistoia Alliance are interested in pursuing these recommendations, please contact Richard (richard.shute@pistoiaalliance.org) or anyone on the Business Development team (Carmen, John, Beeta) or via bizdev@pistoiaalliance.org