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Seoul Medical Center to Launch Blockchain Tech Project With Korean Science, IT Ministry

A South Korean hospital plans to improve the accuracy of its healthcare data by using a blockchain-based platform.

A major hospital in South Korea’s capital city has announced plans to launch a blockchain-based platform aimed to improve its medical services. The news was reported by the Daily Medi, a healthcare sector-focused Korean news outlet, on March 17.

According to the publication, the “Smart Hospital” project was jointly developed by the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT and the Seoul Medical Center, and aims to improve data accuracy and reduce processing timing for the aforementioned hospital. The article also states:

“Seoul Medical Center will build an automated, personalized, integrated medical information platform by providing electronic prescription delivery, certificate issuance, and insurance claims through the blockchain-based system.”

The Smart Hospital project is one of the 2019 blockchain-based public project development plans issued by the Korea Internet and Security Agency, a sub-organization of the South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT, last December, with the aim of promoting the implementation of blockchain tech within the domestic industry.

According to the publication, the Smart Hospital project is scheduled to be launched this April.

As Cointelegraph reported on Feb. 19, in order to promote the country’s blockchain projects, the South Korean capital’s government announced the establishment of the “Seoul Innovation Growth Fund,” with the goal to invest more than $1 billion in blockchain and fintech startups by 2022.

Back in last November, Myongji Hospital, another major South Korean hospital located in the city of Goyang, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a domestic IT firm to develop a medical services platform backed with blockchain tech, as Cointelegraph wrote on Nov. 13.

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Ridesharing App Lyft Partners With Blockchain Startup to Tokenize Healthcare Transport

Ridesharing app Lyft is partnering with Estonian blockchain startup Solve.Care to tokenize healthcare-related transport arrangements.

Ridesharing app Lyft has partnered with blockchain startup Solve.Care to tokenize healthcare-related transport arrangements. The development was announced in a press release from Solve.Care on March 4.

Estonia-based Solve.Care is a decentralized, blockchain-powered platform that focuses on enhancing healthcare administration and access to healthcare services for users and insurers.

The partnership with Lyft will allow Solve.Care users to schedule Lyft rides to doctors’ clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies, with automated payments using native utility token SOLVE via their Solve.Care digital wallets.

Payment for rides can be shared with family, employers, insurers or other parties. The service will also allow patients to flexibly coordinate their trips, arrival times, and any needed assistance with their contacts. Solve.Care CEO Pradeep Goel said the partnership with Lyft can help the blockchain healthcare platform to:

“[I]mprove patient satisfaction through timely access to care, reduced wait times, and simpler cost-sharing and access to transportation subsidies.”

Blockchain technology continues to gain traction in the global healthcare sector, as hospitals, insurers, and other industry professionals continue to explore its benefits for sharing, securing and streamlining sensitive clinical and other health-related information.

Recent developments include a partnership between tech giant IBM and Canadian pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim to use blockchain for clinical recordkeeping, as well as a project to create a blockchain network tailored to the healthcare industry from IBM and health insurance giant Aetna.

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UN Partnership to Roll Out Blockchain-Based Telemedicine, Telepsychology in East Africa

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has partnered with blockchain-based telemedicine and telepsychology firm doc.com.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will reportedly partner with blockchain-based telemedicine and telepsychology firm doc.com to expand free basic healthcare services across Eastern Africa. News of the partnership was shared with Cointelegraph in an email on Dec. 26.

In an officially sealed letter signed on Dec. 20 by Amado Philip de Andres, Regional Representative for UNODC’s Regional Office for Eastern Africa (ROEA), de Andres wrote that the organization is “willing to cooperate […] in a new partnership.” Doc.com is a tech firm that offers blockchain-based 24/7 telemedicine and telepsychology platforms, allowing users to tokenize their personal data and sell it in return for access to the services.

Via the UN partnership, the company now reportedly plans to roll out both its platforms to the African market by the second quarter of 2019.

Up until now, the company has reportedly operated in 20 countries, most recently opening an office in the United States. Its data and healthcare service ecosystem uses an ERC20-compatible token dubbed “MTC,” which is currently tradable on several crypto exchanges, such as Singapore-based Coinbene and Kucoin.

According to statistics on the company website, over 130,000 users have to date used its telemedicine services and almost 70,000 have used its doc.com, “Emotions,” telepsychology platform.

Doc.com also reportedly plans this year to expand its services across a wider range of U.S. states, to launch its tokenized telemedicine service in the United Kingdom by March 2019, and to branch out to the Asian market, starting with India, by the end of 2019.

Aside from these expansion plans, the company states it plans to launch its in-house mainnet by Q1 2019 to replace its existing Ethereum-based ERC20 token system. It will also launch a subsidiary blockchain-based veterinary services system, dubbed “doc Pets,” in the U.S. by Q2 2019.

As previously reported, blockchain has been gaining increasing traction across healthcare and related sectors that involve highly sensitive data. In the field of genomics, several initiatives are harnessing the technology’s potential to provide a secure and equitable means of not only monetizing and managing the circulation of existing data, but of incentivizing its generation.

Earlier this month, a group of major U.S. healthcare companies formed an alliance to trial blockchain solutions that would improve data integrity and security and reduce costs — the latest of a series of similar approaches being developed globally.

For its part, the UN has long been exploring multiple –– largely humanitarian –– use cases for blockchain, beginning with its use of the Ethereum blockchain to transfer coupons based on cryptocurrencies to refugees in Syria, followed by a blockchain-based digital identity system designed to combat child trafficking globally.

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Newly Formed US Healthcare Alliance to Trial Blockchain for Improved Data Quality

Seven major healthcare companies from the U.S. have established an alliance to trial blockchain solutions.

Major U.S. healthcare companies have formed an alliance to trial blockchain solutions in order to improve data quality and reduce costs, U.S. weekly news outlet Modern Healthcare reports Monday, Dec. 3.

The Synaptic Health Alliance group consists of Humana, Multiplan, UnitedHealth Group’s Optum, UnitedHealthcare, Quest Diagnostics, and has recently been joined by Ascension — the largest not-for-profit health system in the U.S. according to Modern Healthcare — and CVS Health-Aetna, which has an estimated 22 million of members.

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, who analyzed data provided between September 2016 and August 2017, at least half of the information on Medicare Advantage Organizations contained mistakes, which affects customers by causing delays in medical services and can make them subject to fines.

Modern Healthcare writes that the alliance hopes decentralized storage will keep information more accurate thanks to the system’s security and the ability to track all copies almost in real time.

The article notes that healthcare providers are spending up to $2.1 billion each year to store data. By using a shared blockchain network for insurers, customers, and providers, healthcare organizations could cut operational costs, chief information officer of Quest Diagnostics Lidia Fonseca believes.

In addition, Ascension’s chief information officer Gerry Lewis added that blockchain could be further used to securely share clinical information to the parties involved the process, Modern Healthcare writes.

As Cointelegraph has often reported, decentralized solutions are widely used in healthcare. Hospitals can use blockchain to safely store patients’ data; for instance, Taipei Medical University Hospital in Taiwan and major South Korean hospital Myongji are currently testing blockchain-based systems,

Blockchain can be used in other spheres of healthcare beyond hospitals.

In April, German Camelot Consulting Group developed a blockchain-based solution for the management of sensitive medical data. And in October, software company and former smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry released a blockchain-powered platform focused on the health field.

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Former Estonian Prime Minister Becomes Blockchain Startup Advisor

A former Estonian prime minister has signed on as an advisor to a blockchain startup that wants to encourage people to exercise more.

Taavi Rõivas, who ran the Estonian government as prime minister from 2014 to 2016 and currently serves as a member of the country’s parliament, has joined cryptocurrency startup Lympo as chairman of its supervisory board. Lympo aims to incentive exercise and active lifestyles through its LYM token, the company announced in a press release.

Rõivas confirmed the move on Twitter, saying that he was “excited to help one of the most promising Baltic startups to grow and pursue the mission of motivating people to excercise more and better.”

Lympo says it tracks and aggregates users’ health and medical information, issuing tokens in order to reward individuals that complete various physical activities. These activities may be announced or potentially sponsored by companies working with Lympo, according to its whitepaper.

In turn, the companies may receive parts or all of the aggregated data from participants, though the whitepaper emphasizes that users maintain ownership over their data, and certain forms of sharing would be restricted under the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

While Lympo originally built its LYM token on the ethereum protocol, the startup intends to move its token ecosystem to another blockchain – most likely NEO, CEO Ada Jonuse said in an FAQ published last month.

Taavi Rõivas image via Sven Tupits/Wikimedia Commons

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Life’s Code: Blockchain and the Future of Genomics

In an era of hotly contested debates surrounding data ownership, privacy and monetization, one particular piece of data could be said to be the most personal of all: the human genome.

While we are 99.9 percent identical in our genetic makeup across the species, the remaining 0.1 percent contains unique variations in code that are thought to influence our predisposition toward certain diseases and even our temperamental biases — a blueprint for how susceptible we are to everything from heart disease and Alzheimer’s to jealousy, recklessness and anxiety.

2018 offered ample examples of how bad actors can wreak havoc with nefarious use of even relatively trivial data. For those concerned to protect this most critical form of identity, blockchain has piqued considerable interest as a powerful alternative to the closed architectures and proprietary exploits of the existing genomics data market — promising in their stead a secure and open protocol for life’s code.

Encrypted chains

Sequencing the human genome down to the molecular level of the four ‘letters’ that bind into the double-stranded helices of our DNA was first completed in 2003. The project cost $3.7 billion and 13 years of computing power. Today, it costs $1,000 per unique genome and takes a matter of days. Estimates are that it will soon cost as little as $100.

DNA SEQUENCING COST PER GENOME

As genomic data-driven drug design and targeted therapies evolve, pharmaceutical and biotech companies’ interest is expected to catapult the genomics data market in the coming years, with a forecast to hit $27.6 billion by 2025.

If the dataset of your Facebook likes and news feed stupefactions has already been recognized as a major, monetizable asset, the value locked up in your genetic code is increasing exponentially as the revolution in precision medicine and gene editing gathers pace.

Within the past year, unprecedented approvals have been given to new gene therapies in the U.S. One edits cells from a patient’s immune system to cure non-Hodgkin lymphoma; another treats a rare, inherited retinal disease that can lead to blindness.

Yet, here’s the rub.

Genomics’ unparalleled potential to trigger a paradigm shift in modern medicine relies on leveraging vast datasets to establish correlations between genetic variants and traits.

Generating the explosion of big genomic data that is still needed to decode the 4-bits of the living organism faces hurdles that are not only scientific, but ethical, social and technological.

For many at the edge of this frontier, this is exactly where Nakamoto’s fabled 2008 white paper — and the technology that would come to be known as blockchain — comes in.

Cointelegraph spoke with three figures from the blockchain genomics space to find out why.

Who owns your genome? Resurrecting the wooly mammoth… and blockchain

For Professor George Church, the world-famous maverick geneticist at Harvard, the boundaries between technologies in and out of the lab are porous. Having co-pioneered direct genome sequencing back in 1984, a short digest of his recent ambitions include attempts to resurrect the long-extinct mammoth, create virus-proof cells and even to reverse aging.

He has now placed another bleeding-edge technology at the center of the genomics revolution: blockchain.

Last year, Church — alongside Harvard colleagues Dennis Grishin and Kamal Obbad — co-founded the blockchain startup Nebula Genomics. Church had been trying for years to accelerate and drive genomic data generation at scale. He had appealed to volunteers to contribute to his nonprofit Personal Genome Project (PGP) — a ‘Wikipedia’ of open-access human genomic data that has aggregated around 10,000 samples so far.

PGP relied on people forfeiting both privacy and ownership in pursuit of advancing science. As Church said in a recent interview, mostly they were either the “particularly altruistic,” or people concerned with accelerating research for a particular disease because of family experiences.  

In other cases, as cybersecurity expert DNABits’ Dror Sam Brama told Cointelegraph, it is the patients themselves who generate the data and are “sick enough to throw away any ownership and privacy concerns”:

“The very sick come to the health care system and say, ‘We’ll give you anything you want, take it, we’ll sign any paper, consent. Just heal us, find a cure.’”

The challenge is getting everybody else. While no one knows exactly how many people have had their genomes sequenced to date, some estimates suggest it is around one million.

Startups like Nebula and DNABits propose that a tokenized, blockchain-enabled ecosystem could be the technological tipping point for onboarding the masses.

By allowing people to monetize their genomes and sell access directly to data buyers, Nebula thinks its platform could help drive sequencing costs down “to zero or even offer [people] a net profit.”

While Nebula won’t subsidize whole genome sequencing directly, a blockchain model would allow interested buyers — say, two pharmaceutical companies — to pitch in the cash for someone’s sequence in return for access to their data.

Tokenization opens up the flexibility and granular consent for enabling different scenarios. As Brama suggested, a data owner could be entitled to shares in whichever drug might be developed based on the research that they have enabled or be reimbursed for their medical prescription in crypto tokens. Contracts would be published and hashed, and reference to the individual’s consent recorded on the blockchain.

Genomic dystopias

Driving and accelerating data generation is just one part of the equation.

Nebula ran a survey that found that, rather than simply affordability, privacy and ethical concerns eclipsed all other factors when people were asked whether or not they would consider having their genome sequenced. In another study of 13,000 people, 86 percent said they worried about misuse of their genetic data: over half echoed fears about privacy.

NEBULA'S SURVEY ON GENOME SEQUENCING

These concerns are not simply founded in the dystopian 90s sci-fi of Hollywood — think Gattaca’s biopunk imaginary of a future society in the grips of a neo-eugenics fever.

As Ofer Lidsky — co-founder, CEO and CTO of blockchain genomics startup DNAtix — put it:

“Once your DNA has been compromised, you cannot change it. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and receive a new one. Your genetic code is with you for all your life […] Once it’s been compromised, there’s no way back.”

Data is increasingly intercepted, marketized and even weaponized. Sequencing — let alone sharing — your genome is perhaps a step further than many are willing to take, given its singularity, irrevocability and longevity.

DNABits’ Brama gave his cybersecurity take, saying that:

“The consequences are very difficult to imagine, but in a world [in which] people are building carriers like viruses that will spread to cells in the body and edit them — it’s frightening, but in fact, all the building blocks are already there: genome sequencing, breaches of data, gene editing. People are now working to fix major health conditions using gene editing in vivo. But we should assume that every tool out there will eventually also get into the wrong hands.”

He added, “We’re not talking about taking advantage of someone just for one night with GHB or some other drug” — this would impact the rest of an individual’s life.

This April, on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news broke that police detectives had mined a hobbyists’ genealogy database for fragments of individuals’ DNA they hoped would help solve a murder case that had gone cold for over thirty years.

Law enforcement faced no resistance in accessing a centralized store of genetic material that had been uploaded by an unwitting public. And while many hailed the arrest of the Golden State Killer through a tangle of DNA, others voiced considerable unease.

This obscurity of access has implications beyond forensics. While Brama’s dystopia may be some way off, today there are concerns about genetic discrimination by employers and insurance firms — the latter of which is currently only legally proscribed in a partial way. Grishin echoed this, noting that in the U.S., “you can be denied life insurance because of your DNA.”

This May, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission opened a probe into popular consumer genetic testing firms — including 23andMe and Ancestry.com — over their policies for handling personal and genetic information, and how they share that data with third parties.

23andMe and Ancestry.com represent a recent phenomenon of so-called direct-to-consumer genetic testing, the popularity of which is estimated to have more than doubled last year.

These firms use a narrower technique called genotyping, which identifies 600,000 positions spaced at approximately regular intervals across the 6.4 billion letters of an entire genome. While limited, it still reveals inherently personal genetic information.

The highly popular 23andMe home genotyping kit — sunnily packaged as “Welcome to You” — promises to tell people everything from their ancestral makeup to how likely they are to spend their nights in the fretful clutches of insomnia. The kit comes with a price tag as low as $99.

This July, the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), invested $300 million in a four-year deal to gain access to 23andMe’s database, and the testing firm is estimated to have earned $130 million from selling access to around a million human genotypes, working out at an average price of around $130. By comparison, Facebook reportedly generates around $82 in gross revenue from the data of a single active user.

Battle-proof, anonymized blockchain systems for the genomics revolution

In this increasingly opaque genomics data landscape, private firms monetize the genotypic data spawned by their consumers, and sequence data is fragmented across proprietary, centralized silos — whether in the unwieldy legacy systems of health care and research institutions or in the privately-owned troves of biotech firms.

Bringing genomics onto the blockchain would allow for the circulation that is needed to accelerate research, while protecting this uniquely personal information by keeping anonymized identities separate from cryptographic identifiers. Users remain in control of their data and decide exactly who it gets shared with and for which purposes. That access, in turn, would be tracked on an auditable and immutable ledger.

Grishin outlined Nebula’s version, which would place asymmetric requirements on different members of the ecosystem. Users would have the option to remain anonymous, but a permissioned blockchain system with verified, validator nodes would require data buyers who use the network to be fully transparent about their identity:

“If someone reaches out to you, it shouldn’t be just a cryptographic network ID, but it should say this is John Smith from Johnson & Johnson, who works, say, in oncology.”  

Grishin added that Nebula has experimented with both Blockstack and the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain but has since decided to move to an in-house prototype, considering the 15 transactions-per-second capacity of Ethereum to be insufficient for its ecosystem.

DNABits’ Brama, also committed to using a permissioned system, proposed using “the simplest and most robust form of blockchain — i.e., a Bitcoin-type network.”

“The more powerful and the more capable engine that you use, the larger the surface attack.”

Lie-proofing the blockchain

23andMe is said to store around five million genotype customer profiles, and rival firm Ancestry.com around 10 million. For each profile, they collect around 300 phenotypic data points — creating surveys that aim to find out how many cigarettes you (think) you’ve smoked during your lifetime or whether yoga or Prozac was more effective in managing your depression.

A phenotype is the set of observable characteristics of an individual that results from the interaction of his or her genotype with their environment. Generating and sharing access to this data is crucial for decoding the genome through a correlation of variants and traits. But as Grishin notes, being largely self-reported, the quality of much of the existing data is uncertain, and a tokenized genomics faces one hurdle in this respect:

“If people will be able to monetize their personal genomic data, then you can imagine that some people might think, ‘If I claim to have a rare condition, many pharma companies will be interested in buying access to my genome’ — which is just not necessarily true. The value of a genome is kind of difficult to predict and it’s not correct to say that if you have something rare, then your genome will be more valuable. In fact many studies need a lot of control samples that are kind of just normal.”

Education can help make people aware that they won’t be making any more money by lying and that a middle-of-the-road genome might be just as interesting for a buyer as an unusual one. But Grishin also noted that a blockchain system can offer unique mechanisms that deter deception, even where education fails:

“Blockchain can help to create phenotype surveys that detect incorrect responses or identify where an individual participant has tried to lie. And this can be combined with blockchain-enabled escrow systems, where, for example, before you participate in a survey, you have to deposit a small amount of cryptocurrency in an escrow wallet.”

If conflicting responses indicate that someone has tried to lie about their medical condition, then their deposit could be withheld in a way that is much easier to implement within a blockchain system than compared to one using fiat currencies.

2018: Viruses and chromosomes hit the blockchain

Even with just a fraction of the population on board, given the data-intensivity of the body’s code, a tsunami of sequence is already flooding the existing centralized stores.

The complex, raw dataset of a single genome runs to 200 gigabytes: In June 2017, the U.S. National Institute of Health’s GenBank reportedly contained over two trillion bases of sequence. One of the world’s largest biotech firms, China’s BGI Genomics, announced that same month that it planned to produce five petabases of new DNA in 2017, increasing each year to hit 100 petabases by 2020.

In his interview with Cointelegraph, Lidsky proposed that the raw 200 gigabyte dataset is unnecessary for analysts, emphasizing that initial genome sequencing is read multiple times “say 30 or 100 times,” to mitigate inaccuracies. Once it’s combined, he explained, “the size of the sequence is reduced to 1.5 gigabytes.” This still requires significant compression to bring it to the blockchain. As a reference, the average size of a transaction on the Bitcoin (BTC) blockchain was 423 kilobytes, as of mid-June 2018.

Average transaction size on the Bitcoin blockchain, 2014-18

Average transaction size on the Bitcoin blockchain, 2014-18. Source: TradeBlock.com

In June, DNAtix announced the first transfer of a complete chromosome using blockchain technology — specifically IBM’s Hyperledger fabric. Lidsky told Cointelegraph the firm had succeeded in achieving a 99 percent compression rate for DNA this August.

Nebula, for its part, envisions that even on a blockchain, data transfer is unnecessary and ill-advised, given the unique sensitivity of genomics. It proposes sharing data access instead. The solution would combine blockchain with advanced encryption techniques and distributed computing methods. As Grishin outlined:

“Your data can be analyzed locally on your computer by you just running an app on your data yourself […] with additional security measures in place — for example, by using homomorphic encryption to share data in an encrypted form.”

Grishin explained that homomorphic techniques encrypt data but ensure that it is not “nonsensical” — creating “transformations that morph the data without disturbing it”:

“The data buyer doesn’t get the underlying data itself but computes on its encrypted form to derive results from it. Code is therefore being moved to the data rather than data being moved to researchers.”

Encrypted data can be made available to developers of so-called genomic apps — something that Nebula, DNAtix and many other emerging startups in the field all propose as one means of providing users with an interpretation of their data. They could also provide a further source of monetization for researchers and other third-party developers.

But is ‘outsourcing’ genomic interpretation to an app that simple? The decades-old health care model referred patients to genetic counselors to go over risks and talk through expectations, helping to translate what can be bewildering and often scary results.

Consumer genetic testing firms have already been accused of leaving their clients “with lots of data and few answers.” Beyond satisfying genealogical curiosity and interpreting a range of ‘wellness’ genes, 23andMe can reveal whether you carry a genetic variant that could impact your child’s future health and has — as of 2017 — even been authorized to disclose genetic health risks, including for breast cancer and Parkinson’s.

Blockchain may not fare much better when it comes to leaving individuals in the dark, faced with the blue glow of their computer screens. Nebula and DNAtix are both considering how to integrate genetic counselors into their ecosystems, and Grishin also proposed that users would be able to “opt in” to whether they really want to “know everything,” or only want “actionable” insights  — i.e., things that modern medicine can address.

Blockchain and big pharma

Prescription drug sales globally are forecast to hit $1.2 trillion by 2024. But closing the feedback loop between pharmaceuticals and the millions of people who take their pills each and every day still faces significant hurdles.

Drug development relies on correlating and tracking the life-cycle of medical trials, genetic testing, prescription side effects and longer-term effects relating to lifestyle; tokenization can incentivize individuals and enterprises to share data that is generated across multiple streams. As Brama outlined:

“Lifestyle data comes from wearables, smartphones, smart homes, smart cities, purchasing, commercial interactions, social media, etc. Another is carried by everyone, and that’s our genome. The third is clinical and health-condition data generated in the health care system.”

Brama used the analogy of a deck of cards to explain how blockchain could be the key to starting to bring this data into connection, all the while protecting data owners’ anonymity.

An individual can hold an unlimited number of unique addresses in their digital wallet. Going into a pharmacy to purchase a particular drug — say, vitamin C, stamped with a QR code — would generate a transaction for one of these addresses. A visit to a family doctor might generate a further hash for a diagnosis on your electronic medical record (EMR) — say, a runny nose. This transaction goes between the caregiver and another wallet address.

A user might choose to put the correlation between transactions for their different wallets on the blockchain and make it public for people to bid on the underlying data. Or, they might keep the correlation off-chain and send proof only when, say, an insurance firm or research institute advertises to users who have a particular set of transactions:

“You hold the deck. You look at the cards, you decide if you say, if you don’t say. And you can put them on the table and let everyone see, or you can indicate privately that you actually have these. It really leaves the choice and the implementation up to you.”

Biotechnological frontiers

Professor Church has made an analogy that likely rings bells for anyone plugged into the crypto and blockchain space, saying that “right now, genome sequencing is like the internet back in the late 1980s. It was there, but no one was using it.”

Blockchain and the vanguard of genomic research have perhaps come closer to each other than ever before. Now that the DNA in our cells is understood as a life-long store of information, a new and disruptive technology is needed to securely and flexibly manage the interlocking networks of the body’s code.

The advent of genomics raises questions that cannot be settled by science alone. For all of our interviewees, blockchain could be just the key to creating the equitable and transparent means of ownership and circulation that would ensure these helices of raw biomaterial don’t spiral out of control.

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Taiwan Hospital Launches Blockchain Platform to Improve Medical Record-Keeping

The Taipei Medical University Hospital has rolled out a blockchain-powered platform to improve medical record-keeping, Taipei Times reported August 31.

The so called “Healthcare Blockchain Platform” was reportedly developed in order to support the government’s Hierarchical Medical System policy, improve patient referral services, and integrate individual healthcare networks to enable people to access their medical records in an easier way. To make a request for their records, patients can log in to a password-protected mobile app.

The project involved over 100 clinics, which deploy blockchain technology to address major issues in healthcare, such as data transfer between medical establishments and patient portals. Through the platform, patients can access “a complete set of all their medical records, including high-resolution medical images, lab results, and clinical and health exam information,” while hospitals and clinics can request, authorize and share patients’ records using smart contracts.

Hospital superintendent Chen Ray-jade told Tapei Times that blockchain will help to minimize the risk of security breaches, adding that “blockchain technology not only helps to combine electronic medical records with electronic health records from multiple hospitals and clinics, it also incorporates the additional security feature of notification and consent before any transfer takes place.”

Healthcare establishments globally have also applied distributed ledger technology in medical data management. Earlier this month, Cointelegraph reported that South Korean biotech enterprise Macrogen together with local tech firm Bigster is developing a medical big data ecosystem that would allow for secure and private storage and transfer of large amounts of sensitive genomic and personal information.

In May, U.S.-based life science research marketplace Scientist.com revealed a new blockchain platform  designed to track and protect pharmaceutical data. Additionally, Scientist.com is attempting to reduce the burden on biopharma businesses to comply with strict U.S. data regulations.

In April, German Camelot Consulting Group developed a blockchain-based solution for the management of sensitive medical data, where all data transactions are encrypted and stored on an unchangeable blockchain and are carried out directly between the authorized participants.

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MetLife Subsidiary LumenLab Pilots Blockchain Insurance System for Diabetes

Singapore-based digital innovation center Lumenlab is testing a blockchain-enabled insurance solution for diabetes sufferers, according to a press release published August 20.

Lumenlab is a subsidiary of financial services provider MetLife and has reportedly developed the new project within the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) regulatory sandbox.

The pilot, dubbed Vitana, is a parametric, automated insurance product targeting those who develop gestational diabetes – a condition that is said to affect one in five pregnant women in Singapore. It has been co-developed with insurance firm SwissRe, UK tech and blockchain specialists Cognizant, and electronic medical records (EMR) provider Vault Dragon.

The blockchain solution has been designed to securely integrate EMR data in order to trigger an automatic payout upon diagnosis, effectively removing the need for manual policy claims.

As LedgerInsights outlined following Lumenlabs’ demo of Vitana at Consensus earlier this year, the bulk of electronic health records in Singapore are tied up in manual, centralized data silos. Singapore residents who have coverage are first required to personally pay for their treatment and only later claim it back from their insurer.

In the new system, Vault Dragon will securely provide EMR data to confirm or refute a diagnosis: in the case of a confirmation, a smart contract will send a customer’s encrypted bank account details to the insurer, prompting an automated payout. No additional patient data will be aggregated or stored on Metlife servers.

As a Cointelegraph analysis highlighted this spring, blockchain technology has been gaining increasing traction in the global healthcare industry to innovate data sharing, security and insurance systems.

In April, German Camelot Consulting Group launched its own blockchain-based solution for the management of sensitive medical data, arguing that existing healthcare systems transfer sensitive patient data by analog means, running an “immensely high” risk of error and misuse.

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Blockchain Used to Trace Deadly Chemical Linked to $289 Mln Monsanto Cancer Lawsuit

Food safety firm ZEGO is using blockchain to test products for residue of a deadly chemical tied to a recent $289 million Monsanto lawsuit, according to a press release published August 16.

Earlier this month, Monsanto was fined $289 million in damages after a court ruled in favor of a plaintiff’s claims that the company’s use of a herbicide containing glyphosate had caused his cancer.

ZEGO reportedly has a patent-pending blockchain system that would allow companies to test foodstuffs for glyphosate. The company says it had initially developed the solution to enable consumers to make better informed choices about the presence of allergens and gluten in various goods.

According to ZEGO, glyphosate testing can further be used as a means of verifying suppliers’ purported organic and non-GMO certifications, which it implies can often be fraudulent. As the press release notes:

“Glyphosate has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits and studies alleging correlation to cancer and celiac-like symptoms. This has prompted debates over how much exposure is safe. But the argument over safety thresholds is academic…because consumers have no idea how much they are ingesting. Most…companies do not test for glyphosate, even though numerous studies have measured surprisingly high amounts of it in some packaged [and] even organic foods.”

Last month, the UK’s Food Standard Agency (FSA) successfully completed a pilot using blockchain as a regulatory tool to ensure compliance in the food sector, noting at the time that the tech’s full potential to improve standards would only be realized if an “industry-led” initiative were to take off.

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A Solution to China's Pharma Woes Might Be a Blockchain Away

A still-evolving vaccine scandal in China prompted a range of social media discussions in the past week around how blockchain could have prevented such a situation – or how it might be used to stop it in the future.

To recap, ChangChun Changsheng Bio-technology, a pharmaceutical firm based in Jilin, is accused of having sold about 252,600 units of questionable DPT vaccine, not long after this Shenzhen-listed public firm was found forging data on about 113,000 substandard rabies vaccines, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.

Notably, this is not the first vaccine-related scandal occurred in China in the past year. Several pharmaceutical companies have been involved in producing and selling a great number of DPT vaccines, and a majority of them remain unpunished to this day.

There’s little doubt that the latest exposure of wrongdoing has caused yet another outcry among the public and the scandal-plagued pharmaceutical industry. At its heart, the snowballing problems have raised a core question: how can Chinese families protect their kids and themselves?

The idea that blockchain could allow for the more efficient dispersal of data about vaccines spread soon after the rabies vaccine scandal broke.

A computer programmer under the username @wstart arguably got the ball rolling on V2EX, a Reddit-like online community. According to his post, after spending about 14 hours on data mining and coding, he was able to locate problematic vaccines in 30 provinces.

During the process, he explained, it became apparent how surprisingly difficult it was to gather all the information he needed, with some still remaining unavailable or unsearchable.

And that’s when the crypto community in China started to come out and highlight blockchain as a possible solution.

Chaining data

As CoinDesk reported Monday, Xiaolai Li, one of the best-known of the country’s crypto investors, was among the first to have sparked the discussion about blockchain adoption in the pharmaceutical industry.

In his WeChat article, the crypto investor argued that the technology could help offer visibility as medicines move through the supply chain – that is, as they transported from the facility at which they are made to the hospitals that distributed them.

According to anonymous commentary which appeared on Jianshu, a blog site in China, the author said that blockchain has largely been “demonized” by many people because of the many token sale scandals (China banned ICOs in 2017).

But people should also remind themselves that blockchain itself is only a technology, the anonymous poster argued.

And the idea of Chinese firms using blockchain for supply-chain purposes isn’t exactly new. Companies like JD.com and Walmart are already applying the tech to tracing food shipments, for example.

Zhipeng Cheng, a financial commentator at China Finance Online, a China-based financial information company, offered a more detailed plan on how blockchain can be used in the pharmaceutical industry in an op-ed from earlier this week.

By using blockchain technology, he said in his article, the National Institutes for Food and Drug Control (NIFDC) can form a public chain for its inspection technology and share its technology for vaccines tracking. Institutes and organizations can apply and participate in the public chain, he argued.

Though just a technology, Cheng said that he believes the country should “embrace blockchain and put it into practice.”

From ideas to practice?

Local news stories suggest that movement toward this is already taking place.

Beijing News, a Beijing government-backed news outlet, reported on July 24 that several blockchain firms in China are already responding to the growing chatter about making vaccines safer and have responded by putting keywords like “vaccines” and “embed vaccine on chain” in their social media accounts.

Yet not everyone seems so enthusiastic about the concept.

The question “can a mathematical algorithm really solve a trust crisis?” was posted by a commentator on DoNews, a technology news website in China, earlier this week.

As they argued:

“Blockchain technology cannot put an end to the production of the problematic vaccines, and it would even be hard to change the status quo – because the operation of this industry is deeply centralized. It is simply an abysmal ‘black box.’ Nobody can really be sure about the trace of the internal operation until any serious problems leak again. Once that happens, its “system” would give you some sort of ‘data’ which would make you feel stupid.”

The author then concluded that blockchain is only a technology, which will not solve the much more complicated social issues that deeply rooted in Chinese society.

Another article from July 23 appeared on Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora, also doubted the feasibility of the blockchain adoption from a more technological side.

People cannot guarantee “the authenticity of the original information,” the author argued. “For example, the information of the vaccine production can be false even before it gets on the chain.”

Indeed, at least one startup has attracted the interest from regulators regarding a claim that it is putting together a blockchain platform for this purpose, as CoinDesk previously reported.

Censorship at work

The examples show that there is an earnest discussion taking place within China’s social media ecosystem on this dilemma.

But the ever-present issue of state censorship makes it difficult to get a firm grasp on how detailed the conversations have been beyond news outlets and blog posts and the comments that accompany them.

On Weibo, for example, no results are shown when searching the keywords “blockchain” and “vaccine” – an indication that those posts are being masked. Yet notably, it may be blockchain itself that helps enable conversations the one taking place around the vaccine issue.

The original article – dubbed “the King of Vaccine,” which unveiled the newest scandal – is currently blocked on Chinese social media. Yet someone has permanently recorded it on the ethereum blockchain, as shown on Etherescan.

As this post on BTC123.com, a China-based crypto online community, explained:

“At 2.49. 54 (s) a.m. July 22, 2018, an article named ‘the King of Vaccine’ has been permanently recorded on Etherescan at 6007493. It might just be a small step in the blockchain world. Someday, it might become a huge step in the human history.”

Vaccination image via Shutterstock

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