Blockchain used for clinical trials, in Boehringer Ingelheim & IBM Canada partnership

Boehringer Ingelheim Canada

Pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim Canada and IBM Canada have announced a new partnership, through which the companies will explore the use of blockchain technology in clinical trials.

“I believe that blockchain technology has the potential to change how we run clinical trials.”

The collaboration marks the first time that blockchain technology will be explored in a clinical trial setting in Canada. The announcement was made at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando, Florida.

“The clinical trial ecosystem is highly complex as it involves different stakeholders, resulting in limited trust, transparency, and process inefficiencies without true patient empowerment,” said Dr. Uli Brödl, VP of medical and regulatory affairs at Boehringer Ingelheim Canada. “I believe that blockchain technology has the potential to change how we run clinical trials.”

Related: IBM launches accelerator program to help founders scale blockchain networks

Burlington, Ont.-based Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM Canada aim to test whether blockchain technology in clinical trials provides a decentralized framework that enables data integrity, provenance, transparency, and patient empowerment, and at the same time automates of processes. The companies ultimately hope to improve trial quality and patient safety at a reduced cost using blockchain technology.

The pilot, which Brödl said will roll out over the next few weeks, is designed to assess methodology and the value proposition that blockchain technology could have. Brödl added that because of data privacy and protection considerations, the general idea is to minimize patients’ personally identifiable information (PII), and protected health information (PHI) like blood pressure or glucose levels, on blockchain. Although the company is looking to use blockchain as a decentralized framework in clinical trials, Brödl said it does not intend for the pilot to use any public blockchain.

“Our guiding philosophy is to bring value to patients and the healthcare system through innovation,” Brödl said. “Patients are at the heart of everything we do, so we are looking into novel solutions to improve patient safety and empowerment.”

IBM Canada brings its blockchain technologies to the collaboration, which provides patient consent, secure health data exchange, and patient engagement. By collaborating with leaders in other sectors to devise solutions that benefit patients and our healthcare system, Boehringer Ingelheim hopes to create solutions that benefit patients and the Canadian healthcare system.

Related: The Healthtech Times – Genetics on the blockchain

Boehringer Ingelheim, established in Germany in 1885, concentrates on developing therapies in human pharmaceuticals, animal health, and biopharmaceuticals. Its Canadian headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim were established in 1972 in Montreal, Quebec and are now located in Burlington, Ontario. The company currently employs approximately 600 people across Canada.

In July 2017, IBM announced the launch of IBM Z, a new system designed to encrypt large volumes of data and protect corporations from data breaches. As part of IBM Z’s launch, IBM also opened a new IBM Blockchain Global Data Centre in Toronto, which uses IBM Z’s encryption technology to secure and run blockchain services.

“IBM is excited to collaborate with Boehringer Ingelheim to explore how blockchain technology could help improve the quality of clinical trials,” said Claude Guay, general manager of IBM Services. “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.”

Brödl said the results of the pilot are expected to be announced later this year, and more details about the pilot will be announced at a future conference.

Image courtesy Boehringer Ingelheim Canada.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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