By NextLevel Life Sciences - June 08, 2018

Following NextLevel Life Science’s AI & Blockchain Applications in Pharma R&D Workshop, we conducted a select interview with Ashley Kemball-Cook from Qadre to learn more about his thoughts on this vital issue.

*Opinions below are those only of the individual and do not reflect upon corporate strategy or positioning.

Ashley Kemball-Cook, Head of Business Development, Qadre

NextLevel: What are the 3 most important considerations before implementing a blockchain technology in the Pharma R&D process?

AK: In the past five years, we have seen an explosion in the number of blockchain protocols. The difficult decision is no longer whether to initiate a blockchain project or not, but which blockchain to utilise for a project.

Choice of technology to utilise:

Numerous protocols exist that are optimised for specific use cases while others are more general. It is important that whatever platform is built on is future proof in order to avoid wasting resources.

We have seen this trend before with the growth of the internet where multiple protocols existed to achieve different objectives. The key inflection point that enabled the invaluable system we have today was interoperability.

Qadre is a key contributor to the Plug Foundation, a blockchain protocol focused on enabling interoperability both between blockchains and also into existing IT systems. This ensures that companies can build on a blockchain infrastructure which they can integrate with their existing systems.

If a company chooses not to use an interoperable system like Plug, then it is important to assess whether the chosen blockchain will perform beyond a proof of concept (POC) – taking into account the number of transactions it can process per second, the simplicity of the programming language it is written in, and the ease with which it can integrate into non-blockchain systems.

Use case:

There is currently a lot of hype around blockchain which leads to inappropriate applications of the technology. One mistaken approach is the ‘hammer seeking a nail’ approach where businesses try to find a system to replace with blockchain, but without critically assessing first if it will offer an efficient solution and suit the businesses targets on Return on Capital Employed (ROCE).

The most effective approach is to map the core abilities of blockchain technology to the issues of the organization. This gives a starting point to assess whether the core features of blockchain can address these issues.

The core features of blockchain are:

Public Verifiability: This allows multiple parties to verify the correctness of the data in a system. Permissions can be optimized so that only authorized parties can see particular data.

Immutability: The data input into the blockchain is unchangeable making it a reliable source of information.

Public Key Infrastructure: Is used to pair a digital identity with a real-world identity.

Auditability: Blockchain builds an accurate record of actions that have been processed by the system. This record gives a full, unchangeable account of everything that has happened, meaning all actions processed by the system can be audited easily.

Access Control: Use-permissions defined on the chain to control what people can see (full/partial/no access) and what they can write. These can be time-limited and revoked at any time.

Accountability: A combination of technologies underpinning blockchain allows users to ensure that all actions are assigned to an entity (individual or business) ensuring that people are accountable for their actions.

Golden Source of Truth: Blockchains’ consensus algorithms mean that all parties must reach agreement on what information they deem to be correct. This gives all parties a single source of information that can be relied on.

It is important for a use case to make use of many of these features to ensure it is an effective use case for blockchain.

Business ecosystem:

To successfully implement a blockchain project, however, it is important to consider much more than the technology itself.

Regulations, existing infrastructure, and culture are also important to take into consideration. Blockchain systems will always need to interact with existing systems, so it is imperative to build a blockchain system with foresight into the technologies one is likely to integrate into.

Any change in an organisation requires the support of the people, so it is important to understand when and how an organisation is ready to change.

Part of this process of change includes managing expectations. Reminding people that there are no silver bullets and that there will be no blockchain that can, in isolation, completely solve an issue. It is vital to have the correct implementation strategy. We have seen the most success when companies follow these three steps:

1. Identify a Specific Issue: Typically, we begin an engagement with our partners by identifying a specific problem they wish to address and that can be resolved by a blockchain-enabled solution.

2. Proof of Concept: Then we scope out how a problem is best addressed and deliver a Proof of Concept. This should involve a demonstration unit. The demonstration is useful as it serves to communicate both the benefits of blockchain and the overarching vision of the project. It can also be an important educational tool. Practical use cases are often the best way for people to understand what can seem like complex technologies.

This step then includes an exploration of the wider value proposition, and scoping of a product tailored to the needs of the business.

3. Product Development: We then architect, develop, and implement the project, involving the on-boarding of all stakeholders, addressing all regulatory and policy requirements, and providing internal on-boarding and briefing.

The specific use case will naturally impact the key considerations, however, based on our experience in implementing projects across Pharmaceuticals, Government, Finance, Media, Energy, and Consumer Goods – we believe that these are pieces to consider first.