Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM link up for blockchain-powered clinical trials in Canada

The Canada-based units of Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM will work together to employ blockchain record-keeping technology in a clinical trial pilot project, in what they say will be a first in the country.

The two companies will test whether the decentralized framework can provide data integrity, provenance and transparency, as well as automate some trial processes and reduce costs. They also aim to make it easier for study participants to claim ownership over their data, and revoke or reauthorize their consent if necessary.

“Our guiding philosophy is to bring value to patients and the healthcare system through innovation," said Uli Brödl, VP of medical and regulatory affairs for Boehringer’s Canadian division. "The clinical trial ecosystem is highly complex as it involves different stakeholders, resulting in limited trust, transparency and process inefficiencies without true patient empowerment."

The pilot project will evaluate the use of blockchain in parallel with more traditional study methods, in a trial that is set to begin in the coming weeks and wrap up before the end of the year, Brödl told FierceBiotech in an interview.

While Boehringer has been working to implement blockchain in its supply chain operations, this will be its first use in clinical research, he said. The digital ledger technology, which also forms of the backbone of Bitcoin, distributes data among several points and links each new entry to the last, to provide data security and transparency.

“We want to understand the value proposition of blockchain technology, and how that value would generally be applicable to many disease areas,” Brödl said.

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IBM Canada will provide the core blockchain technologies behind tracking patient consent and engagement, as well as for securing health data exchanges with other partners. The collaboration was announced at the HIMSS conference in Orlando, Florida.

"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,” said IBM Canada's Claude Guay, general manager for IBM Services.

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