Blockchain is quickly moving from interesting pilots to clear use cases as a source of trust

From taking on counterfeits to tracking sources of data, the decentralised ledger is fuelling greater transparency throughout the entire process of clinical research and commercial delivery.

Wholesalers often have to return unsold drugs to pharmaceutical manufacturers when they have surplus inventory. The value of those returns is typically $7 billion to $10 billion per year. Manufacturers then verify the authenticity of the returned product and resell it.

In the US, the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) requires barcodes at the package level as well as using those serial numbers to verify the authenticity of returned drugs. In Europe, the Falsified Medicine Directive (FMD) has a similar barcoding requirement and a central reporting system.

Outside Europe, that central reporting system doesn’t exist, which could mean every distributor has to integrate data with every pharmaceutical manufacturer.

But Merck is testing another way with an experiment in trust-driving blockchain. The firm recently established a pharma-retail technology partnership to identify and trace prescriptions in the US. The shared, permissioned blockchain network supports real-time product monitoring that ensures product integrity and allows faster retrieval of inventory tracking.

Novartis is experimenting with similar use cases in Europe as part of a partnership between the region’s pharmaceutical industry and the European Union. The shared Innovative Medicine Initiative includes technologists, universities, clinical labs, hospitals and patients working together on projects that include counterfeit drug detection, supply chain, patient data and clinical trials.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s Canada division is applying blockchain to clinical research trust and transparency. Its deployment is focused on addressing quality issues with trial processes and records. The decentralised blockchain register will reduce data fragmentation and is ultimately aimed at reducing the cost and time of clinical research.

Obviously, there’s still a lot of confusion around what technologies like blockchain can do and how well. But there are now effectively off-the-shelf solutions from companies like Microsoft and IBM. Those solutions are becoming an important part of how the second wave of adopters is experimenting with the technology.

The Trust Deficit is one of fifteen trends outlined in the Syneos Health 2020 Health Trends, which outlines critical shifts that are changing how life sciences leaders will develop and commercialise novel new therapies and innovations in the year ahead.

The report suggests tangible ways for responding to these powerful dynamics so that, working together, we can stay the course toward realising innovation’s full potential. Download the eBook to read all fifteen trends and gain access to worksheets that provide clear takeaways and edifying interactive experiences at

2020 Health Trends represents the knowledge and experience of hundreds of leaders and experts who work on the front lines of healthcare, as well as original research with industry, patients, payers and providers. Through research, interviews and workshops, we’re able to triangulate a future-facing look at the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Vanela Bushi is director, Portfolio & Transaction Strategy,  at Syneos Health