Supply chains are probably the weakest link in complex business architectures. The “just in time” inventory needs of modern consumption, the rampant consumerism, the extreme globalization and connectivity, made supply chains all too complex, fragile and more than ever exposed to sudden shocks. Then came Covid-19 which put supply chains under considerable strain and made their weaknesses and lack of resilience all too apparent.
But technology in the form of DLTs/Blockchains and IoT devices can save the day. They can dramatically improve supply chain management, make them more efficient and more resilient.
Because blockchains/DLTs offer — through decentralization — a secure, transparent, incorruptible, immutable, auditable and efficient way to record digital data, they are the perfect tool for managing supply chains. Coupled with IoT — which sensors can record all sorts of external data such as speed, temperature, humidity, time, exact geo-localization, opening and closing of packaging and the breaking of seals, etc. — the data can be processed and analyzed in real-time to enable an immediate managerial response.
When looking specifically at the pharma industry, the picture is not rosy. According to PWC, while companies like Walmart, Apple or Zara have “superb supply chains”, pharma industry’s supply chains are “neither flexible nor cost-effective”.
More specifically, the major challenges that the Covid-19 vaccine distribution will unleash on the pharma industry can be summarized as follows:
(i) the need to use a different supply chain as with other products. Likely much wider and extended, therefore more complex and difficult to manage. Basically, the need is to track down everything and everyone from medical components (i.e. suppliers of ingredients) to the final patient receiving the vaccine;
(ii) the need to scale up and down deliveries based on epidemic data and demand;
(iii) the need to compress delivery time and comply with cold chain constraints;
(iv) the need to monitor stock inventories in real-time, avoid shortages and manage timely delivery;
(v) the need to collect and handle vital epidemiological data (this will be the “KYP”, Know Your Patient process) and share it with a multitude of stakeholders such as the authorities, hospitals, family doctors, pharmacies, etc. This is also vital in case vaccines are defective or have side effects which require an immediate suspension of the treatment or a product recall;
(vi) the need to incorporate IoT devices to prevent counterfeit and manage cold-chain constraints;
(vii) the need to manage increased complexities, such as different producers and diverse types of vaccines which are not compatible with each other. Since vaccine shots will be administered at intervals, one must make sure that people get the second or third shot of the very same vaccine and not of a different one.
Mistakes here can cost lives and potential liabilities could be huge.
Some of the above issues are clearly not unique to the Covid-19 vaccine, but are made more pressing by its criticalities such as, for instance, counterfeit risks and the cold-chain integrity. While normally a pharmaceutical cold-chain operates with temperatures reaching -25° degrees, some types of Covid-19 vaccines will need to be stored at much lower temperatures, between -60° and -90° degrees. That is a totally new challenge for the cold-chain.
Also counterfeit drugs are one of the biggest problems that the industry faces today. The worldwide counterfeit drug market is valued at over US$ 200 billion. Counterfeit drugs are said to be responsible for the death of more than 500,000 people every year.
According to WHO estimates, 10% of all medical products sold — including pills, vaccines, and diagnostic kits — is fake or substandard. Here you can find a WHO study on that topic.
For the European Pharmaceutical Review, counterfeit or substandard drugs sold in developing countries are at least 30%.
For this reason some countries have introduced strict regulations for tracking drugs in the supply chain. In the USA for instance, the Drug Supply Chain Security Act was passed which mandates for a unique ID on the drug. Therefore the integration of IoT devices and the blockchain/DLT technologies is now essential.
An Italian company named Viditrust has developed a unique “printing fingerprinting” technique, called ViseQR, which can be incorporated into a QR code to make it unique and non-counterfeitable. The ViseQR was conceived to protect “Made in Italy” products from counterfeiting, therefore this patented technology is built to be flexible enough to be applied to any type of product and industrial sector.
Technologies such as the ViseQR, coupled with IoT devices and then incorporated into blockchains/DLTs, are the solutions that Big Pharma badly needs today.
How this can be done is visually well explained in very simple terms in this article by Techskill-Brew.
A few companies have been merging blockchains/DLTs with IoT and sensor devices in order to build the infrastructure necessary to handle the complex Covid-19 vaccine supply chain constraints. Some have gone a step further and enabled the deployment of the so-called smart contracts, i.e. pieces of code which automatically execute pre-set instructions when pre-set conditions are triggered. Modum.io solutions for the pharma industry are based on SAP’s corporate permissioned DLT and deploy smart contracts which are triggered whenever the IoT sensor/device registers a pre-set condition such as, for instance, a temperature falling below or raising above a certain threshold or the breaking of the seal which ensures the integrity of the packaging and so on. In this case, the smart contract will trigger a pre-set instruction, such as the immediate product recall, or it may signal the recipient that the drug should not be used and be returned to sender because defective.
Another player is Ambrosus, which proposes similar use cases and products but uses the public Ethereum blockchain. The difference is that Ambrosus — being run on the Ethereum blockchain — offers a more dynamic environment for developers and community members to build dApps, extensions and protocol upgrades. This enables the exploitation of synergies and interoperability with other Ethereum-based protocols and allows the integration and functionality of Ambrosus dApps.
The San Francisco based Chronicled.com has already onboarded key industry players such as Pfizer, Gilead and Bayer. They have raised tens of millions of US$ and have launched Mediledger, a consortium which develops the blockchain-based supply chain infrastructure for its members running on the Ethereum Parity client, which was built by Berlin-based Parity.io. Here each member owns and operates a node and the blockchain uses a POA (proof of authority) consensus algorithm.
But a more obscure Indian startup named Statwig, based in Hyderabad and Singapore — which now boasts also a US address in Cupertino — might actually become the unforeseen prime candidate to win the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain management race and benefit from the multi-billion bonanza paid by governments worldwide. Statwig´s website does not tell what type of solutions they are developing nor what type of technologies and blockchain/DLTs they use. Nonetheless, with powerful and well-connected sponsors, backers and partners such as the WEF, the WHO and the GAVI Alliance — the brainchild of the ubiquitous duo Bill and Melinda Gates — they are certainly well placed to win a big fat contract.
The company — defined as a startup in this December 2018 article — was awarded a US$ 100.000 grant from the UNICEF Innovation Fund. In July 2019 the company was shortlisted for GAVI’s Infuse program, “There is a scope to enter into a long-term arrangement with GAVI. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is backing the GAVI programme,” said the CEO Siddharth Chakravarthy. When and how the GAVI, the WEF and the WHO got involved with Statwig is not known. But things for the company seem to have taken a sudden turn for the better this year in 2020.
In May 2020, at the end of the first Covid-19 wave, Statwig’s Facebook page boasted that the company had joined the Chinese Longhash venture accelerator family. How much the Chinese accelerator has invested in Statwig is not known, but their web site says, “Statwig is a startup for efficient tracking of vaccine and food supply chain using blockchain and IoT. Its partners include UNICEF and GAVI — (they forgot to mention the all too important WEF, to which “Great-Reset” agenda Statwig fits perfectly like “the cherry on top of a cake”) — and are in consideration to handle the tracking and monitoring of the Covid-19 vaccine which is slated for a 2021 release.”
Then, in July 2020, the apotheosis. A celebratory WEF sponsored article hints at the startup as the candidate to none other than the hugely complex task of managing the Covid-19 vaccine global supply chains. No indication whatsoever on how they plan to do it, how their “vaccine supply chain management platform” works, what type of technologies or what blockchain/DLT will be used. Thank god they concede at least that they will be using, “QRcodes [Barcodes/Serial Numbers] printed at unit-levels to track the vaccines from the manufacturer to end-consumer…”.
Yeah, that’s revolutionary. That invention dates back to 1994 and we have seen it on every single product and every single market shelf for the last 20 years.
But hey who cares, if you are “lucky” enough to be awarded big fat contracts then you can always sub-contract someone else to do the job. Or why not, you might as well buy from the Italians the above-mentioned patent to the unique ViseQR. At least this is an evolutionary step ahead of Statwig´s good old QRCode.
For all these reasons one could confidently bet on Statwig. Bill and Melinda have the “animal spirits” and showed consistent ability to pick winners. Their foundation has been making large grants to the likes of Pfizer, Moderna and CureVac as well. The foundation is certainly not new to betting large stakes in listed companies which then benefit also from grants from affiliate entities like GAVI or the WHO, in a sort of communicating vessels system. They have been doing this for almost 20 years. Their unmatched web of interests ranges from investments in pharma companies to massive grants to authorities such as the WHO and the GAVI Alliance to large contributions to the WEF and now the sponsoring and financial backing of Statwig via the GAVI Alliance, the WHO and WEF.
Does anyone sees a potential conflict of interest?
No doubt that both Statwig’s CEO and “philanthropists” Bill and Melinda will be very satisfied with the outcome. Sooner or later however uneasy questions will be asked and someone will raise more than eyebrows. Then they will have to come clean with their web of seemingly conflicting economical and “humanitarian” interests.
Is this sheer profiteering in a philanthropic guise? Moreover, when philanthropy becomes a tool to serve vested interest?
Andrea Bianconi is an international business lawyer with over two decades experience, a scholar of Austrian Economics, monetary history and geopolitics, a believer in the future of Bitcoin and Blockchain based technologies, a consultant to the sector and a speaker/panellist at conferences and events. Founder and CFO of the Luxembourg based www.thinkblocktank.org, a member of the untitled-inc and an active contributor to the Berlin blockchainhub.net, and the German Blockchain Bundesverband Bundesblock.
© www.bianconiandrea.com — 2020
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