2021 Blockchain in Healthcare Recap
Reviewing the top headlines, products, themes, research and news at the intersection of blockchain, healthcare and life science.
2021 was the year cryptocurrency and blockchain grew up and there was no shortage of that in the fields of healthcare and life science. As the markets for Bitcoin and digital currencies went up, so did the investments and projects in our space, along with the progress of NFT’s, DAO’s, creator economies and the expansion of digital ownership. The highlights below have a focus on enterprise, private, permissioned blockchains that require proof of a user or network before interacting with the blockchain due to private enterprises focusing on how the technology can benefit them first, then a consortia or a group of partners secondarily. However, many of these solutions are experimenting with public blockchain concepts that help the enterprise become more transparent with their user base and distribute wealth amongst the participants of their community more evenly. We should see those experiments move towards production and scale in 2022 if the value is proven out properly.
I have the privilege of leading the Hyperledger Healthcare Special Interest Group (HC-SIG) and in our bi-weekly meetings we connect with founders, executives, researchers and leaders in the field to recap everything in the world of blockchain and healthcare all year long. Below is an encapsulation of that research and I hope to have you join us on Wednesday’s at 10:00AM Eastern to discuss the future of this space. Please enjoy my compilation for 2021 and your feedback is always appreciated on my work!
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Table of Contents
Products & Partnerships
Digital Vaccine Passports Go Mainstream
Medical Supply & Pharmaceutical Track-and-Trace Persist
Crypto Donations & NFT’s for Good
The Decentralized Science (DeSci) Movement
DNA & Genomic Sequencing Providers Test the Blockchain Waters
Consent & Prior Authorization Gain Traction
Top Research Papers
Additional Noteworthy News
Top Stories: Federated Learning solutions were a major contributor to most of the capital and projects that made noise in 2021. With the ability to utilize machine learning, without moving or sharing the data, organizations remove the risk of collaboration and maintain data privacy. It’s easy to understand why big pharma and providers are spending the millions of dollars to make sure they are involved in this model. Blockchain technology is enabling competitors to collaborate to solve common problems across the industry creating a new cooperative model for the industry. If not adopted, healthcare institutions may fall behind the innovation adoption curve and not provide the best model for their constituents to connect with.
Hashed Health and ConsenSys Health showed the ability to bring key players and capital to the space by orchestrating the frameworks to bring government, providers, pharma and payers together for their solutions. The dHealth Network has been building a decentralized payment and care network for quite a number of years and finally broke through with two key pharma partners to validate transactions in their blockchain. Helping to ensure that validator nodes are both performant and trustworthy from two real-world producers of pharmaceuticals.
Personally I am most excited about Masinde Muliro University and Immunify Life dedicating a research study to see if token reward programs incentivize healthier behavior over a span of five years in Africa. The more clinical examples we have to prove out blockchain benefits, the easier it will be to get Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to approve of these projects in hospital settings.
Sanofi & Owkin land $270M deal in total to bring Federated Learning to decentralize large data sets without requiring all participants to pool their resources
Pharmaledger deploy six node blockchain network (Novartis, JnJ, GSK, Merck, Bayer), implement Open Data Sharing Units (OpenDSU) and develop Supply Chain, Clinical Trial and Health Data use cases
MELLODDY consortia proves drug discovery model performance improvement using Federated Learning
Health Utility Network rebrands as Avaneer Health led by CVS Health (Aetna), Anthem and Cleveland Clinic to focus on identity and data utility use cases
Hashed Health raises $3.77M led by UPMC, plans to create enterprise solutions and startups through Hashed Health Labs
Masinde Muliro University & Immunify Life begin clinical research in Africa to see if tokens rewards can improve HIV patient outcomes
Products & Partnerships: Molecule and VitaDAO are live and taking us from the Proof-of-Concept stage into full-scale production. Rarely are things done alone in blockchain networks, but problems are solved together. Interoperability and converging technologies allow organizations to collaborate more fluidly generated an increase rate of growth. We can expect for this trend to continue in our industry. Below we see token reimbursement for medical services, a blockchain & IoT example, token and methods to preserve privacy of valuable medical data with the ability to still share it with approved participants.
Molecule & VitaDAO produced real-world biopharma research and IP that was transferred and funded on-chain by the community
Norada Corporation, Abeeway & Helium connected easy-click sensors to log caregivers as they make homecare visits for automated, actionable insights and alerts
AstraZeneca, Novartis & Spherity created POC of informed consent via blockchain
BurstIQ & The National Institutes of Health (NIH) privacy-preservation of valuable medical IP and algorithms used for research
Chopra Foundation & Hedera Hashgraph foster “Never Alone” app to connect mental health experts to distraught patients; paid in HBAR token
MAPay & Verida launch Decentralized Healthcare Payment Network on Algorand in Bermuda
Digital Vaccine Passports Go Mainstream: Using Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) and Verifiable Credentials (VCs) digital passports reached the public lexicon this year by trying to help healthcare institutions utilize digital technology to validate if you have been vaccinated to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 across your community and borders their citizens travel to. Using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) data model, the goal is to have a credential issued out by a trusted source and verified automatically or by a trusted practitioner via digital channels.
This issue became political, especially in the United States, where Texas and Florida banned such a solution from being approved for authorization. There is a fine line here, where users of vaccine passports can feel discriminated and judged by their choice of taking the vaccine or by which vaccine you were given. Having that recorded as part of your identity can make users feel as if they don’t have a choice in the matter and that the government is taking away their civil liberties. However, studies have proven that vaccinated populations prohibit the severity of viral infection and stop spread more than any other therapeutic. This politicization of this concept may delay the hope of having a digital EHR from becoming mainstream.
The more the values of blockchain including provenance, security and consent are realized, the more it becomes a valuable discussion of implementation here.
Some of these vaccine passports have a valuable vision to interoperate not just within their own borders, but open up a network of other passports that can be approved with the W3C methodology. Problem with that vision is that digital IDs are like toothbrushes. Everyone has one, but they are reluctant to use yours. We could all do a better job of thinking holistically of creating digital ID interop, rather than building solutions within our own borders.
European Commission assembles EU Digital COVID Certificate
National Health Services (UK) releases Digital COVID Pass to track COVID vaccination history via mobile app
Singapore creates HealthCerts for cross-border COVID-19 test results
Columbia unveils Vitalpass, with plans to expand across LATAM
Medical Supply and Pharmaceutical Track-and-Trace Persist: One of the more clear use cases for blockchain took shape this year with both public and private solutions in track-and-trace. These solutions serve manufacturers, distributors, retailers and administrative professionals in charge of managing the supply of products along with ensuring the provenance, time, quality and details associated to their product that has been hard to get multiparty stakeholders in supply chains to see together with Web2 solutions.
The vision of this technology hopes to bring the creator, distributor, retailer and the customer to have a 360 view of a valuable product to understand where it came from, how it was built, how it was transacted and where it eventually ended up. This helps all of the stakeholders in the process understand sustainability, fraud and user adoption metrics unlike they ever could have before.
Though we have made big leaps here in recent memory, future iterations of this technology may be more useful when we can get more cross-border track-and-trace partners to validate transactions, node health and quality metrics for products in the future.
U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) & Oracle distributed ledger across multiple government agencies to validate COVID-19 test results
LedgerDomain XATP app allows pharmacists to authenticate multiple drug totes and and securely exchange information with trading partners
TYDEi Health & BTP partner in using Sextant for DAML to track implantable medical devices across their supply chain
Navy grants $1.5M to Consensus Networks for logistics tool to track medical supplies
Crypto Donations & NFT’s for Good: Bitcoin, Ethereum and most altcoins hit their all-time highs, which helped major institutions and high-net worth individuals earning crypto save money on their taxes by donating to charity. As The Giving Block founder Alex Wilson said, “Would you rather give your crypto to the IRS or would you rather help save children.”
Health behavior rewards and sharing expiring medication for those in desperate need using RemediChain also proved to be valuable alternatives to disposing of pharmaceuticals. Around $2.8B in pharmaceuticals are wasted every year and this team out of Memphis is taking a stab at re-purposing those medications to people in need who qualify for a therapeutic that may never be used.
BurstIQ & RemediChain form Medication Donation app to patients
RemediChain & NOVAScripts bring No-Cost Chemotherapy to Virginia patients
Open Science NFT sells for $24K
The Decentralized Science (DeSci) Movement: I personally am pretty bullish that the DeSci movement could be the next evolution of life sciences funding, research, IP, and technology transfer in the field. Creating an online community that anyone can join, with the goal to acquire, support and finance new therapeutics and research data in the treatment space they believe in. The DeSci DAO’s will directly hold legal IP rights to these projects and may develop a growing portfolio of assets represented as IP-NFTs and tokens. Many researchers, scientists and philanthropists want to donate directly to the contributors providing faster miracles without a third-party taking major profits from creators or slowing down the process. Community-first funding mechanisms such as DAO’s, verified by NFT’s give power to the users to decide fair pricing on therapeutics and get more of a say in what scientific research will be taken on first by the institution that is elected by the community. We are super early in this space, but even Nature has taken notice.
OpenAccessDAO community to buy paywalled research papers to make them publicly available
labDAO to accelerate Web3 for biotech R&D
Atoms.org P2P review networks to reward scientific contributions
DNA & Genomic Sequencing Providers Test the Blockchain Waters: Similar to DeSci movement, the DNA/genomic ownership communities and companies made waves with federal partnerships and pharmaceutical manufacturer collaborations to help increase patient feedback loops on the sequencing findings. From a product-market-fit it’s hard for this use case to truly take off as most users don’t care enough to have full responsibility of managing and holding their DNA. In large part due to the convenience of 23andMe, Ancestry and third-party platform services. And especially when marketplaces may not believe this data is overly valuable.
In my opinion this solution will really take off when you create DAO’s or community-led organizations for patients with chronic disease or illnesses. The values of Web3 emphasize ownership of valuable digital assets and these patients have some of the most valuable data on the planet, with the majority of them having interest in owning their data. You can take that DNA data, hash it to a blockchain-based marketplace and have that data prove valuable in a marketplace with Contract Research Orgs (CROs), Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), data analysts, researchers or entrepreneurs who find the data useful. That can be tricky waters depending on the health of the patient, but user-based ownership is where most of the incentives align.
Embleema & FDA ink $2M contract to further bioinformatic research and system development expansion efforts with the FDA-ARGOS database
LunaDNA, Takeda, MPS Society & Genetic Alliance grow digital drug discovery community to create longitudinal data stream for enterprises and patients
Ultimaxx Health creates Crypto Docs NFTs and Symbiotic marketplace to promote natural products and pharmaceutical research
EncrypGen gets acquired by IndyGeneUS
Consent & Prior Authorization Gain Traction: Patient-mediated, approved data exchanges have seen major benefits using blockchain and allow for many participants in the healthcare ecosystem to validate data and information together. The more consented data we have from the sources where the data comes from, the less errors in patient reported outcomes. This year was no different in seeing this progress in industry.
Acoer produced RightHash on Hedera Hashgraph for decentralized consent management during clinical trials
Bimodi Health System (Mexico) & Genobank.io verifying paternity tests via ERC-720 tokens by health officers
BlocHealth & Acadia Professionals partner to utilize medical malpractice, credentialing, and licensing-related services
Top Research Papers: Tons of accredited research created in the space this year focused on consent and supply chain management as they have been the most profitable use cases in the space since 2017. I was happy to see healthcare token economic interactions become a focus too as there is so much to learn when ecosystems interact with data and prices in mutually beneficial ways. A lot of private-public partnerships in research took place which help bring the full picture of data exchange together. Will be interesting to see which of these findings come into production in the future.
HHS, Defense Health Agency, Univ. of Chicago: Potential Uses of Blockchain Technology for Outcomes Research on Opioids
Boehringer Ingelheim & IBM: Leveraging Blockchain Technology for Informed Consent Process and Patient Engagement in a Clinical Trial Pilot
British Blockchain Association: Blockchain Token and Network for Medical Tourism in the Republic of Moldova
Mayo Clinic, Carnegie Mellon, American Univ, Alfaisal Univ, King Faisal Hospital: Blockchain Integration With Digital Technology and the Future of Health Care Ecosystems: Systematic Review
John’s Hopkins University: Digital Signatures for Early Traumatic Brain Injury Outcome Prediction in the Intensive Care Unit
Hewlett Packcard Enterprise (HPE) & Univ of Bonn: Swarm Learning for Decentralized and Confidential Clinical Machine Learning
LedgerDomain, UCLA Health & Amgen: Evaluation of Decentralized Verifiable Credentials to Authenticate Authorized Trading Partners and Verify Drug Provenance
Ryerson University: Distributed Interoperable Records - The Key to Better Supply Chain Management
University of Texas Dell Medical: Designing and Testing a Blockchain Application for Patient Identity Management in Healthcare
IEEE: Swarm AI for Decentralized Clinical Research & Precision Medicine
SingHealth: Overview of Successful Blockchain Startups
Blockpass ID Lab: Federated Learning for Trusted, Consented Patient Mental Health Data
Apex Data Solutions & U.S. Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA): Blockchain-Based Provider Data Directory Solution
Additional Noteworthy News:
Aimedis releases first metaverse medical B2B marketplace and NFT user tokens based in UAE
Lympo builds a staking protocol to utilize with token partners
US Dept of Veteran Affairs requests vendors for BC solutions that include "provider credentialing and privileging" in Jan 2022
Decentriq partners with 20 pharma companies to collaborate on sensitive data together
HealthTrends.AI wins $256K SBIR from National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue development on their blockchain and healthcare informatics products
Softhread earns $256K SBIR from National Science Foundation (NSF) for blockchain research
Massive Science: Could blockchain technology protect patients from counterfeit medication?
Synaptic Health Alliance receives International Data Communication (IDC) award for Open Data Sharing
For 2022, I believe the DeSci Movement takes shape with some big name partnerships, the metaverse will have it’s fair share of use cases with token, DAO and NFT reward mechanisms and some of the major networks in Avaneer, Synaptic Health Alliance and Pharmaledger will have real products used at scale.
If you have made it this far, thank you for reading and please feel free to share this post to spread the word all of the phenomenal work being done in the space!
Special thanks to: Ray Dogum, Mike Pica, Jordon Ritchie for their review and assistance in shaping this overview together. And of course a huge thanks to Robert Miller who’s 2019 Blockchain and Healthcare recap was my motivation for the post.
*Note: I wrote this overview for educational purposes only. I am not a token holder, trader or owner in any of the companies, securities or concepts mentioned in this overview