Transparency in pharmaceutical supply chains is a prerequisite for the survival and prosperity of humankind during a pandemic. The quality and origin of drugs must be traceable and trustworthy through advanced DLT and IoT systems.
The covid-19 pandemic has exposed the failure of existing drug distribution systems. In critical moments, patients face a shortage of antibiotics and other life-saving prescription medicines. Huge drug supply chains are not transparent and efficient enough. The source of imported drugs is often difficult to trace: the quality of the active substance and other components, compliance with storage conditions, and the origin of the drug remain questionable due to the lack of traceability and complexity of supply chains.
The World Health Organization
estimates that one in ten medical products, including medications and diagnostic devices, are substandard or counterfeit. Amid the quarantine pandemic in developing countries, counterfeit medicines are becoming more common.
, an expert on counterfeit drugs at the University of Oxford, predicted that, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the spread of counterfeited and unsafe drugs increases unless governments around the world start to fight it jointly.
The problem is getting worse as the chain of medicines is scaled up and more complex. In addition to threatening the lives and health of patients, counterfeit medicines also threaten the reputation of pharmaceutical companies, forcing drug manufacturers and distributors to invest in countermeasures. The latest developments in blockchain-backed Internet of Things tracking systems can solve this problem by ensuring transparency at all stages
of the production, supply, and sale of medicines.
The Internet of Vital Things
The way to solve the supply chain problem is to automatically record on the blockchain all the data on pharmaceutical manufacturers, serial product numbers, packaging numbers, storage conditions, and stages of shipping. Internet of Things sensors scan codes and RFID tags at each point of the supply chain, as well as monitor the temperature environment in shipping containers and warehouses, sending data to the blockchain in real-time.
To manage production, the system developers have to select sensors to capture data during production, including information about the chemical's concentration, time, location, and coordinates of the manufacturer. Blockchain mechanisms
provide authentication when each transaction receives a digital notary assurance. The sale of medicines obliges all trading partners to have equal transparency in monitoring and tracking: each of the partners depends on the other to ensure safe and fast delivery of drugs. With the implementation of blockchain, additional data verification with test certificates, bills, or letters of credit is not necessary. The history of transactions, movements within the chain, changes, and updates is always available, as transactions are visible to all members of the blockchain network. With notified data, pharmaceutical companies, drug manufacturers, and consumers will be able to verify the authenticity and effectiveness of medicines. Sharing quality and confirmed data provides a high level of control and efficiency in supply chain management.
Digital Control of the Origin of Medicine
In the circumstances of the pandemic, buyers were forced to purchase goods of unclear origin and quality, and their location was often impossible to trace, while supply chains were too long and opaque. The control with the blockchain can restore the shattered confidence in supply chains.
The main components of medications are active ingredients. The effectiveness and quality of the finished medicine depend on them. To monitor the source and origin of raw materials for active pharmaceutical ingredients and its path to the final product, manufacturers must use IoT traceability systems
. For both active ingredients and finished pharmaceutical products to remain effective and safe, IoT systems must support cold chain monitoring. It is a system of devices that control the temperature for the storage and shipping of medicines. At all levels, the system registers when drugs are received and delivered.
Implementation On Time Means Deliveries On Time
Pharmaceutical companies built their logistics chains for deliveries just in time when the main pattern was lean production. Stockpiles were as much as needed to meet current needs. However, in the conditions of the pandemic, the whole well-established mechanism failed. It forces a global reframe of the approach to supply chain management.
Logistics companies have been using GPS, temperature, and other sensors to monitor deliveries for years. However, these systems did not usually interact with each other, and delivery data were separated and unstructured. The blockchain-based IoT platform system collects data from different sources and stores it at a secure distributed ledger. Suppliers can view data on the website or mobile app to get real-time cargo information. Employees of the partner companies can view the entire history of delivery and all related documents while the system guarantees protection and invulnerability of data.
Sharing actual structured data on the pharmaceutical supply chain will detect suspicious delays, better coordinate flows, and manage supply in time. Each participant in the chain confirms medication data and maintains supply chain transparency, eradicating sales of substandard drugs and counterfeiting. Blockchain-based platform solutions are the saviors for pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics around the world. Developing technology and supporting the infrastructure to build a transparent drug production cycle will help restore broken trust in the industry.
In addition to pharmaceutical supply chains, blockchain-based solutions
are necessary for electronic medical records management, clinical and biomedical research, remote patients’ control, insurance, billing procedures, and medical data analysis. Technology and new solutions are evolving, and it is essential to apply them on time, correctly maintaining a fragile balance in economics and healthcare.