Blockchain the perfect fit for digital supply chain? Industry not convinced

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/NicoElNino)
(Image: Getty/NicoElNino)
Blockchain is gaining momentum in the pharmaceutical industry, but consultant Pasi Kemppainen says he would be “cautious” to implement the technology across the entire digital supply chain.

Blockchain – a digital ledger that records data in a secure, chronological way – has attracted increased attention for its use in pharmaceutical logistics​, drug development protection​, and as a cryptocurrency payment tool​. 

But at TraceLink’s FutureLink conference in Munich last week, Epista Life Science consultant Pasi Kemppainen told delegates he was not convinced Blockchain is the “perfect fit” ​for pharma’s digital supply chain.

While the technology is indisputably secure and offers unlimited network scaling, he said: “I’d be cautious myself.It is a fantastic technology, and very stimulating from a possibility point of view.

But would you test a new technology [to solve] problems we have with [serialisation] technologies that are already available? I would wait a couple of years before we go for that.”

Industry doesn’t appear convinced either. A live poll at the event revealed approximately 50% of attendees were ‘undecided’ about the digital ledger’s compatibility with the digital supply chain.

A primary concern for Kemppainen is Blockchain’s ‘public’ nature, whereby the technology enables access to all participating parties.

However as pharmaceutical regulation requires a legal entity be accountable – such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicines Agency (EMA) – the ledger would need be set up and operated privately, he explained.

Blockchain is also incompatible with the recently implemented EU general data protection regulation (GDPR​), which enables ‘data subjects’ the right to revoke the use of personal data at any time.

“What you put into the Blockchain, you can’t take out,” ​said Kemppainen. To comply with GDPR, “you would need to be able to remove data…[and] if you enable that, it’s not a Blockchain anymore,” ​he added.

The consultant also flagged Blockchain’s transaction performance as a potential hindrance across the digital supply chain: “Bitcoin [a cryptocurrency based on Blockchain technology] is facing a huge lack of performance, it can take hours to finalise a block. It just doesn’t work.”

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