Keeping good records of medical trials is notoriously difficult and often fraught with error; solutions to this problem are seemingly elusive. A new collaboration between Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd. and IBM Canada believes it has the answer, with plans to explore the use of blockchain technology in clinical trials.
Boehringer Ingelheim said the collaboration, which was announced at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Orlando, Florida, underscored its commitment to healthcare innovation and marks the first time that blockchain technology will be explored in a clinical trial setting in Canada.
Findings by regulatory authorities, Boehringer Ingelheim said, showed that “processes to ensure the quality of clinical trials are frequently inadequate, and clinical trial records are often erroneous or incomplete, which may put patient safety and interpretability of trials at risk.”
In that regard, the two companies have identified an opportunity to explore by testing whether blockchain technology in clinical trials provides a decentralized framework that enables data integrity, provenance, transparency, and patient empowerment as well as automation of processes, ultimately improving trial quality and patient safety at reduced cost.
Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd vice president of medical and regulatory affairs, Uli Brödl, said they were motivated by bringing value and efficiency to the healthcare system through innovation.
“The clinical trial ecosystem is highly complex as it involves different stakeholders, resulting in limited trust, transparency and process inefficiencies without true patient empowerment. Patients are at the heart of everything we do, so we are looking into novel solutions to improve patient safety and empowerment,” Brödl said.
Brödl stated that, with the collaboration, IBM Canada wanted to “understand the value proposition of blockchain technology, and how that value would generally be applicable to many disease areas.”
Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd., which was established in 1885, said it hoped the collaboration with IBM Canada will pave the way for future cross-stakeholder collaborations and partnerships.
On its part, IBM Canada brings core blockchain technologies to this collaboration which provides patient consent, secure health data exchange and patient engagement,” a press statement said.
Claude Guay, general manager, IBM Services, IBM Canada, said they were excited to collaborate with Boehringer Ingelheim “to explore how blockchain technology could help improve the quality of clinical trials. We’ve been using blockchain in other industries, and we are now investigating how we can use this technology to give Canadian patients the same level of security and trust when it comes to their personal health information.”
The two companies are expected to begin the collaboration with a pilot project that will “evaluate the use of blockchain in parallel with more traditional study methods, in a trial that is set to begin in the coming weeks and wrap up before the end of the year.”
The collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim marks another foray into the healthcare market for IBM; in January it announced its intention, with American insurance company Aetna, to create a blockchain network tailored to the healthcare industry.
The health market is increasingly looking to blockchain technology — which refers to a distributed system of recording and storing transaction records, with information that is stored in a digital ledger, and is a shared, peer-to-peer network of immutable data — for the storage of information.
A survey by Deloitte last year showed that health executives were looking favorably at blockchain; 65 percent of executives said they would invest at least $1 million in blockchain technology in 2019, with nearly 40 percent estimating an investment of over $5 million.
A drawcard for blockchain technology is that patient records can be accessed securely and reliably. In addition, patients can share their entire medical histories anonymously with researchers and healthcare organizations — thereby increasing the efficiency of data-driven processes such as new drug discovery.
Blockchain technology has also attracted startups, with Embleema emerging from stealth mode last year to announce that it was building a complex platform on top of blockchain that will make sharing medical records a lot easier.