Medical Research is historically riddled with corruption, but could Blockchain be the perfect antidote?

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I’ve previously discussed several platforms that could have a huge social and financial impact if they use Blockchain’s technology responsibly. My previous blogs have mainly focused on how Blockchain could play a pivotal role in creating financial inclusion. These have discussed Blockchain’s use in emerging countries including India and parts of Africa. With that said, it could have an equally big impact in parts of the western world too.

In fact, Blockchain has been making waves around the world. Back in April, the UAE announced that 50% of government transactions will be conducted using blockchain technology by 2021. In the west, delivery giant, UPS, has already begun taking steps towards developing its own blockchain-based technology. It says this will increase transparency and efficiency among shippers, carriers, brokers, consumers, vendors, and other supply chain stakeholders.

The area I’m most fascinated by, however, is how Blockchain could be applied within the Healthcare sector. Blockchain’s biggest facet is its transparency. Once uploaded, Blockchain records are permanent and cannot be manipulated or corrupted. The database is shared by all parties in the network, all of whom are responsible for recording and storing transactions. Blockchain technology could, therefore, pave the way for more accurate research, which would help health services to become more efficient. Most importantly, it would contribute to a pathway toward a safer society.

Blockchain could also dramatically transform the way that medical research – specifically clinical trials – is conducted.

The Medical Industry – what issues does it face?

The growth of industry-funded, evidence-based medicine has flooded the field of medical research with selective publications, manipulations of study design and biased hypotheses. Companies with vested interests in a product are too often able to manipulate results to create a more profitable outcome.

Multiple drugs introduced in the past 10 years claiming to offer major benefits to cancer patients have faced serious questioning. The Journal of the American Medical Association has published research suggesting as many as 38% of independent studies of the drugs reached unfavourable results. In comparison, just 5% of studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry reached the same conclusion.

These disparities are a direct consequence of data being manipulated, omitted and isolated to reach the most profitable conclusion. As it stands, the medical industry relies on researchers to honestly record data and submit findings. During the research period, this data is vulnerable to deletion, omission or alterations before being submitted for official review or vetting. There are obvious ramifications to these dishonest practices, but there are very few preventative measures to stop it from happening in the first place. Ultimately, it all comes down to a lack of transparency and security, which brings us nicely back round to Blockchain and how it can potentially go some way towards solving some of these problems.

How can Blockchain help?

This is relevant nowhere more than the National Health Service. In the face of severe financial restraint, making sure every single element in the production and trialing of medicines and pharmaceuticals is carefully documented on Blockchain could save valuable organisations like the NHS both time and money, both of which they are presently desperately short of.

Of course, pharmaceutical companies need to generate profit, but I’m a big believer in responsible business. It’s frustrating that some companies will go out of their way to prioritise profit over people’s health.

Inputting the raw data from clinical trials and other medical research would allow drug developers, independent researchers and regulatory bodies to constantly share, review and audit one another’s findings. This would limit the ability of medical research companies and pharmaceutical companies to influence the outcomes of clinical trials or other research, forcing a higher standard of research and reducing the negative impacts of undue influence.

Thousands of clinical trials are conducted each day, which creates an incredible amount of legacy data that needs a home. This data is invaluable to future research and ought to be readily available for comparison and extraction for different medical researchers. For example, two medical researchers may observe useful correlations in their findings years apart in different parts of the world. These sorts of conclusions are impossible to draw unless there is some system in place where data can amalgamate. Currently, this data is split across multiple platforms which suffer from incompatibility. The cure for any number of diseases could potentially already exist. Evidence may simply be fragmented between different sets of data which could be made accessible via Blockchain. This could be priceless to future research and pave the way for revolutionary findings.

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