Pharmaceutical giant Merck filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark office in December 2016 that just became visible on 21 June 2018 describing a blockchain-based system to track products through the supply chain. This has the potential to reduce drug counterfeiting and illicit diversion of drugs.

Counterfeit drugs can result in serious illness and even death, since the patient does not receive the correct treatment they need to get better when they take counterfeit pills. Likewise, theft takes away drugs from those who really need it.

With blockchain technology, Merck hopes to track drugs from the manufacturer all the way to the patient in an immutable ledger that records the legitimacy of drugs. Pharmacies, doctors, and perhaps even patients will be able to verify drugs. If this blockchain system becomes the required standard, then it will be more difficult for criminals to peddle stolen drugs, which would remove the monetary incentive to commit the theft in the first place.

As Merck explains in the patent: “Furthermore, the stored information can be accessed wherever access to the blockchain is available. This allows for a safe and distributed storage and access to the stored reading results, e.g. for integrity verification purposes such as checking whether a supplier of a product being marked with a composite security marking, as described herein, was in fact the originator of the product, or not.”

This patent isn’t granted yet, and it may take a long time for it to go through the patent prosecution process. Regardless, this is an excellent use of blockchain technology that can save money and most importantly lives.

 

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