How blockchain can save lives

Imagine if your life depended on medication but without realising, the medicine you receive is only chalk or worse, poison. Around the world, real medicines are swapped with fake medicines as they are transported through the supply chain to customers. One healthcare company estimates that around one million people die due to counterfeit cancer medicine each year. The European Commission is bringing in progressive new regulation to combat this, the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD). Blockchain offers a solution to comply with this regulation and stop the unnecessary deaths from counterfeit medicine.

The FMD comes out as a response to the enormous humanitarian cost of fake pharmaceutical medicine in the supply chain. The figures are staggering, alongside the one million lives lost due to fake cancer medicine, a further 450,000 people die every year due to fake malaria medicine. Evidence shows that the pharmaceutical industry’s very own supply chain provides insufficient security to the medicines they are transporting:

‘Past experience shows that such falsified medicinal products do not reach patients only through illegal means, but via the legal supply chain as well. This poses a particular threat to human health and may lead to a lack of trust of the patient also in the legal supply chain.’

The FMD makes two major demands of the pharmaceutical industry: firstly, each item must have a unique identifier and secondly, the item must be tamper-proof.

The Solution: Blockchain

The FMD calls for national and supranational repositories that are interoperable and provide a complete audit trail. Moreover, it must provide a reliable electronic identification and authentication method for medicinal products [4].

An optimal solution to the FMD is through the implementation of blockchain technology. Blockchain allows for multiple pharmaceutical companies to interact on a single repository whilst simultaneously providing the appropriate data protection, accountability, and audit trail.

These features are inherent to blockchain technology. Implemented in the right way it offers a compliant, simple, and cost effective solution to the problem of counterfeiting.

What is Blockchain?

  • Simply put, blockchain is the combination of four pre-existing technologies with their own specific benefits:
  • Cryptography ensures records are stored immutably in the blockchain, meaning records can not be tampered with.
  • Digital Identity gives the medicine a unique identity that can not be separated from the item or duplicated and put onto counterfeit medicine. This also ensures that those who are handling the medicine are fully accountable and acting responsibly.
  • Peer-to-Peer Networking ensures that the entire system is impenetrable to hacking, a growing problem that has plagued many industries in recent years [5].
  • Database Infrastructure gives the ability to store, retrieve, and query data.

Not all blockchain’s are made equal

The infrastructural blockchain that runs a system of this scale and importance would need to be highly resilient, secure, and process hundreds of transactions per second. A common misnomer is that all blockchains are architected with the same restrictive requirements. The two most notable blockchains currently are Bitcoin and Ethereum; these can only process 4 and 15 transactions per second respectively, meaning that these commonly used applications aren’t suitable for many applications. The blockchain within this use-case would also need to interoperate with hundreds of pre-existing systems: something that other blockchains have historically found difficult. Qadre has developed a blockchain platform that can handle an exceptionally high level of transactions and interoperate with existing IT infrastructure whilst providing all the benefits of blockchain systems.


Due to the size and complexity of the problem of counterfeit medicine, it is difficult for one organisation to tackle alone. Together, the FMD and blockchain enable the pharmaceutical sector to tackle this problem. The FMD lays the political groundwork whilst blockchain lays the technological infrastructure for organisations to safely and effectively collaborate to stop the loss of life due to counterfeit medicine.

The Directive focuses on ensuring that the repository is interoperable, auditable, and secure; features that are inherent in Qadre’s blockchain.

Author: Yash Hirani

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