REUTERS: IBM, Merck and Walmart have been chosen for a U.S. Food and Drug Administration pilot program that will explore using blockchain technology to improve the security of prescription drug supply and distribution.
The companies said they would work with consultancy KPMG to create a shared blockchain network that will allow real-time monitoring of products in the pharmaceutical supply chain.
The project has been authorized under the U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) that was set up to increase regulatory oversight of counterfeit, stolen, contaminated or otherwise harmful drugs.
The FDA has previously used the DSCSA to issue a warning letter to drug distributor McKesson Corp for violations involving opioid medications.
Opioids have been tied to thousands of overdose deaths and state and local governments across the United States have filed lawsuits seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for the epidemic of abuse.
The new project is aimed at reducing the time needed to track and trace prescription drugs, improving access to reliable distribution information and ensuring products are handled appropriately and stored at the right temperature while being distributed, the companies said in a statement.
Blockchain technology, originally conceived a decade ago as the basis for the cryptocurrency bitcoin, will help stakeholders establish a permanent record and can be integrated with existing systems used to trace products while they are distributed.
The project is scheduled to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2019 and results will be published in a report, the companies said.
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)