How decentralised storage networks can change the game for the pharmaceutical industry
The way pharmaceutical companies manage data carries inherent risks, as exemplified by the constant scandals about data breaches. Is there anything that can be done about this? A potential solution could be provided by decentralised storage, which could not only improve data security, but also open opportunities for business process automation, improved data governance, and potentially new revenue streams.
What is decentralised storage?
Corporate data can be stored in one of three ways: on premises (the company’s in-house computer network), in the cloud (with service providers such as Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure), or in decentralised storage (or “DS”) which uses distributed ledger technology to spread the data across a network of computers, rather than have it maintained by a single entity. DS has several potential advantages over both cloud storage and on-premises storage solutions. Some of these include:
- Security: In contrast with cloud providers, which are subject to centralised control and a single point of failure, DS is typically more secure than traditional centralised storage solutions, as the data is not stored in a single, vulnerable location. Instead, it is distributed across a network of computers, making it more resistant to hacking and other forms of cyber-attacks.
- Control: With DS, users have greater control over their data, as it is not stored and managed by a third-party provider, which could potentially abuse its access to the data.
- Cost: DS can be more cost-effective, as it does not require the use of expensive hardware and is not subject to the premiums charged by traditional cloud providers.
- Scalability: DS is highly scalable, as the network can easily add more storage capacity by adding new nodes to the network.
- Accessibility: As the data in DS is not tied to a specific location or device, users can access their data from anywhere, at any time.
How can this affect the pharma industry?
DS can potentially revolutionise the pharmaceutical industry by providing a secure and efficient way to store and share sensitive data and enable the use of smart contracts to automate and streamline business processes. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between the parties being directly written into code. By being deployed on a decentralised network, such as a blockchain, they can automatically enforce the terms of the agreement without the need for intermediaries. For example, ensuring that only genuine, safe, and effective products reach patients, and helping prevent counterfeiting and other forms of fraud. Track and trace was the first area application of pharma blockchain applications. However, more importantly, the use of smart contracts can help to streamline business processes by automating tasks and reducing the need for manual intervention, thus saving time and resources. In terms of business transformation of the pharma industry, the areas that can see the most immediate effects are: (1) automated data compliance, (2) data sharing, and (3) data monetisation.
Data governance and compliance are critical for ensuring that sensitive data is handled and stored securely and in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. In the context of DS networks, data governance and compliance can be automated using smart contracts, access control mechanisms, and encryption. Smart contracts can automatically enforce the rules and policies governing the use and storage of data – for example, automatically granting access only to authorised users, or automatically deleting data after a certain period of time. Access control mechanisms, such as end-to-end encryption in combination with decentralised encryption key management systems (DKMS), can also be used to ensure that only authorised users are able to access the data.
DS networks and the use of smart contracts can facilitate data sharing by providing a secure and efficient way for users to share their data with others by automatically enforcing the terms of the data sharing agreements and ensuring that the data is only shared with authorised users. Additionally, it can enable a decentralised, global platform for data sharing, which could allow users to share their data with others across the network, without the need for intermediaries or centralised control. This can facilitate collaboration and innovation, and drive the development of new and exciting applications and services.
Data monetisation refers to the process of generating revenue from data. In the context of DS, it can be achieved by allowing users to sell access to their data to other users who are willing to pay for it. For example, patients could sell anonymised access to their medical records, including genetic information, personality traits, and disease status to facilitate research. Additionally, data monetisation on a DS network can be assisted using tokens or other cryptocurrency-based systems to create a market for data, allowing users to buy and sell data using tokens or other forms of digital currency. This should result in a more efficient and flexible market for data, enabling users to easily monetise their data and access the data they need, ultimately generating new revenue streams and providing both pharma companies and individuals with greater control over their data and its value.
Until recently, the adoption of decentralised data storage was hampered by the lack of knowledge, as well as some technological challenges, which have only recently been resolved. Some of these include:
- Complexity: DS can be complex to set up and manage, particularly for users who are not familiar with the underlying technology. This can make it difficult to take advantage of the benefits of the technology. Latest generation DS solutions have seen significant improvement in user experience and offer full Amazon AWS S3 compatibility, which facilitates the seamless migration of corporate data.
- Interoperability: DS networks that are limited to a single blockchain may not be compatible with existing systems and infrastructure, making it difficult to integrate them into existing workflows and processes. New DS solutions that operate as universal “headless” blockchains and data storage parachains solve this problem.
- Performance: First-generation DS networks, such as IPFS, can sometimes have lower performance than traditional storage, particularly in terms of read and write speeds. This can make them less suitable for applications that require high performance. New generation DS solutions, using multi-CDN technology, have overcome this issue.
- Regulation: While DS is still a relatively new and emerging technology and, as such, may not yet be subject to the same level of regulation as traditional storage solutions, the fact that, by embedding data governance rules into smart contracts and therefore ensuring that data compliance is baked in by design, pharma companies can provide higher levels of assurance of compliance at a lower cost.
Overall, the use of DS technologies can help to automate and streamline the data governance and compliance process, providing users with a secure and compliant way to store, manage, and share sensitive data. Now the conditions for innovation in the storage of data in the pharma industry are set and the first such implementations can be expected. We are aware of multiple teams within the pharma industry that are at different stages of exploring the technology and business adoption led by the most innovative companies should follow soon.
About the author
Mohammad Sayadi is a solution architect and CEO at Djuno, a company that develops AI technology to help businesses optimise their cloud IT infrastructure for better performance and lower cost.