Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

IBM explores blockchain for clinical trials

Steve Rogerson
February 19, 2019
IBM is working with German company Boehringer Ingelheim to explore the use of blockchain technology in Canadian clinical trials, the two firms announced at last week’s Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Florida.
This collaboration marks the first time that blockchain technology will be explored in a clinical trial setting in Canada.
Based on the findings of regulatory authorities, 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.
Opportunity exists to improve the quality of clinical trial processes and record keeping. Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM aim to test whether blockchain technology in clinical trials provides a decentralised 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.
"Our guiding philosophy is to bring value to patients and the healthcare system through innovation," said Uli Brödl, vice president at Boehringer Ingelheim in Canada. "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."
IBM brings core blockchain technologies to this collaboration, which provides patient consent, secure health data exchange and patient engagement. The technology helps provide trust and transparency around the complex trial process.
"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 at IBM in Canada. "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." 
Improving the health and quality of life of patients is the goal of Boehringer Ingelheim, a research-driven pharmaceutical company. In doing so, the focus is on diseases for which no satisfactory treatment option exists. The company therefore concentrates on developing therapies that can extend patients' lives.
Family-owned since it was established in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the top 20 companies in the pharmaceutical industry with around 50,000 employees. In 2017, it achieved net sales of nearly €18.1bn euros. Research and development expenditure, exceeding €3bn, corresponded to 17 per cent of net sales.
As a family-owned company, Boehringer Ingelheim plans in generations and focuses on long-term success, rather than short-term profit. The company therefore aims at organic growth from its own resources with simultaneous openness to partnerships and strategic alliances in research.
The Canadian headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim was established in 1972 in Montreal, Quebec, and is now located in Burlington, Ontario. Boehringer Ingelheim employs approximately 600 people across Canada.