Blockchain tool can help in war on fake drugs

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
14 March 2018

A blockchain prototype tool has been developed with the potential to tackle the problem of counterfeit medicines.

DHL and Accenture said the proof of concept allowed drugs to be tracked from manufacturer to consumer using blockchain’s verifiable distributed ledger technology – essentially a highly secure database.

Interpol figures show around 1m people die each year from counterfeit drugs, half of pharmaceutical products sold online are fake and up to 30% of medicines sold in emerging markets are bogus.

In a report DHL said the project involved “pharmaceutical serialisation”, in which each sealable medicine unit was assigned a unique serial number that was linked to the product’s origin, batch number and expiration date.

Serialisation allows a unit to be tracked at any stage of its lifecycle, most importantly when units are repackaged or aggregated at the logistics stage and then disaggregated for consumption.

“The aim is to show that pharmaceutical products have come from legitimate manufacturers, are not counterfeit, and have been correctly handled throughout their journey from origin to consumer,” said the report.

“Most importantly, this initiative proves how end consumers can verify the legitimacy and integrity of pharmaceutical products, especially compliance with handling requirements. This not only reassures the end customer at the point of purchase that their medicines are genuine and in perfect condition, but has potentially life-saving implications.”

The project was based on a lab performance simulation that showed how blockchain technology could handle volumes of more than 7bn serial numbers and over 1,500 transactions per second across a global network involving six geographies.

Keith Turner, CIO chief development office at DHL Supply Chain, said: “Our proof of concept demonstrated the opportunities blockchain presents in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceutical goods.

“Together with our partners we are actively refining the solution as well as working with key industry stakeholders to operationalise the concept.

“By utilising the inherent irrefutability within blockchain technologies, we can make great strides in highlighting tampering, reducing the risk of counterfeits and actually saving lives.”

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