Blockchain’s role in the fight against COVID-19 comes down largely to it being a powerful tool for data management. In short, by drastically improving data management, blockchain offers huge potential for dealing with COVID-19 and the litany of crises both directly and indirectly associated with it.
On the one hand, data is key in the fight against COVID-19 and the crises surrounding and exacerbated by it. We need more data to effectively contract trace. We need more data to track the spread of the virus and its effects on various populations. We need more data to determine the efficacy of potential treatments. We need more data to improve supply chain resilience and to track sensitive items like personal protective equipment and medicines in order to ensure their quality and authenticity.
On the other hand, data collection is a tricky business, and it’s one that has a variety of extremely negative potential outcomes. When data falls into the wrong hands, lives can be destroyed, intellectual property can be stolen, and companies can be wiped off the map.
How do we protect personal information while collecting the data needed to effectively contact trace? How can research organizations protect their intellectual property while sharing data in the search for medical treatments? How can participants in global supply chains share enough data to improve supply-chain resiliency while protecting the proprietary data that allows them to retain their competitive advantages?
The challenges associated with securely and ethically collecting and managing data are the reason this most valuable asset in the 21st century (data is the new oil) remains alarmingly underutilized. The data we desperately need to solve COVID-19 and adjacent crises is hopelessly siloed. Due to the inability to safely share and analyze it, the data we need sits largely idle. In short, there is huge missed opportunity.
By solving the critical data management challenges inherent to legacy digital systems, blockchain offers a way out. With blockchain-supported data management, we can securely but transparently collect, share, and analyze data like never before. This will speed up the advancement of digitalization and supercharge its effects. Let’s look at a few emerging examples of how this is happening already:
Data Sharing For Research
A year ago, 10 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies made an historic agreement to pool their data on antibiotics, providing the needed data volume to unleash the power of AI in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That agreement was only possible because the technology behind it leveraged blockchain, a technology that changes the way data is stored and managed. This allowed each pharma in the consortium to maintain their IP while simultaneously meeting regulatory requirements.
Supply Chain Management
Sudden high demand for previously marginal products like personal protective equipment has combined with local lockdowns and import/export restrictions to result in the widespread collapse of supply chains. The consequence has been shortages of critical products, leading to over-reliance on sources of products whose origin and quality are unknown and unreliable.
Blockchain is well-suited to supply chain management because it ensures transparency and guarantees security while also enabling nodes in the supply chain to protect their competitive advantages. The result is the capacity to connect all stakeholders in a given supply chain, providing the single source of truth and universal real-time visibility needed to make the coordination improvements that dramatically improve supply chain resiliency and efficiency.
Blockchain solution provider TYMLEZ is an example of an entity that has developed a blockchain-based solution to match supply and demand in the medical products ecosystem. Pilots are currently being deployed in Holland. Other blockchain-based solutions, like the in-production solution developed by SAP, focus on track and trace systems that eliminate counterfeiting and adhere to increasingly strict regulatory protocols.
German tech startup MYNXG created a blockchain-supported solution that enables mobile phone-based tracking while guaranteeing user privacy. Governments and healthcare organizations gain critically important COVID-19 tracking information while citizens rest assured that their personal information cannot be leaked or otherwise shared.
Clinical Trials Research
In the clinical trials research space, where the cost of developing a prescription drug that gets marketing approval sits at a colossal $2.558 billion, and the time needed from the conception of a drug to its approval averages no less than 10 years, blockchain has the potential to have truly revolutionary impact. In a world where the development of effective treatments (or indeed a vaccine) for increasingly prevalent pandemics are essential to the renormalization of the global economy, 10 years from conception to completion is simply unacceptable.
Data collected in clinical trials is extremely sensitive yet, for a trial to be effective, the data must be shared transparently, securely, and – ideally - in real-time. The problem is that the status quo tools used in clinical trials are simply unable to provide anything near that capacity. Blockchain-support clinical trials research, by contrast, provides the data management capacity needed to coordinate between the many stakeholders. From clinical research organizations, to trial-sponsoring pharmas, vendors, regulators, and the patients themselves, all stakeholders can rest assured that data is secure and immutable.
UK-based ClinTex has already made significant progress in developing a blockchain-supported clinical trials intelligence solution that unlocks the data collected in clinical trials, empowering coordination between stakeholders like never before. With solutions like the one developed by ClinTex at their disposal, researchers will be able to develop medicines faster and at drastically reduced cost.