IMI issues call for healthcare blockchain research projects

The EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is funding an €18m project aimed at developing the use of blockchain across the pharma industry.

The project is part of the EU’s €3.3bn budget for public-private-partnerships – co-funded by the European Commission and pharma industry – that is used to bring forward open-source research that cannot be advanced by one organization alone.

IMI project leaders Marco Cuomo and Dan Fritz said on a webinar to introduce the three-year project that the opportunities to use blockchain in pharma are many fold, including fighting counterfeit medicines and improving access to medicines in developing countries.

There could also be a role in new medicine discovery and development. For example, data accessibility issues are leading to lost opportunities for improved research into new medicines, and patient privacy concerns are hindering clinical trial recruitment, they noted. These are issues that companies can’t solve on their own, so a consortium approach is needed.

The objectives of the IMI project are to develop: an independent governance model for blockchain with representation from all industry stakeholders; a common set of measures for evaluating blockchain technology benefits and defined, specific use cases; standards that apply to healthcare; and the implementation of an open-source reference architecture for industry-wide blockchain networks – without intellectual property barriers to uptake.

Other objectives include working out how to match blockchain to existing regulations covering drug development, manufacturing and distribution and developing a “how-to” guide to help get industry projects off the ground.

“We know this will be a long-term journey,” said Fritz, but the benefits could be significant, such as ensuring patients’ medicines are authentic, verified at different layers through the supply chain, that patents are engaged into clinical development, and can get earlier access to medicines.

The intention is to get broad collaboration across healthcare stakeholders, including patients and their representatives, public health institutes, academia, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare providers, as well as blockchain technology specialists.

“This framework will act as an integration layer linking underlying blockchain technologies with specific business applications in areas such as the supply chain, clinical development, and health data,” according to the IMI.

“Long-term impacts of the project will be greater trust between all participants in the sector and the more efficient use of resources.”

The closing date for consortium applications is 24 October, and the IMI will announce the winning consortium in January 2019.

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