While the world lives under the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers and medical professionals are striving to develop a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The disease that originated in the Wuhan province has spread worldwide. The present number of affected stands at 2,423,498 with a death toll of 166,041.
Several precautionary measures have been put in place in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus and hit the pause till a vaccine or drug is developed against the contagion. All over the world, researchers and pharmaceutical companies are pooling resources to find a cure. Many have been collaborating with tech companies to leverage new-age technologies like AI, blockchain, IoT and likewise.
It’s not just for drug discovery, governments and international health organizations have also been working with blockchain and AI companies to streamline various processes such as information authentication and sharing, fast-tracking of insurance claims, critical medical supply chain management, etc.
Usually, the development of a vaccine and its mass production takes up to years. However, we have been put on the clock and everything has to be done in fast-track mode. Here’s where the power of blockchain can be leveraged to streamline the coronavirus vaccine development.
Blockchain in Different Phases of Vaccine Development
The development of a vaccine or any drug goes through multiple phases starting from the exploratory to pre-clinical and then followed by clinical development, trials, and final approval from regulatory bodies like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, USA) for mass production and distribution. All of the phases mentioned have extensive monitoring and quality control protocols, that makes it a time taking process.
However, with an ongoing pandemic, the utmost priority becomes to vaccinate and immunize the population against the disease. Hence time becomes short in supply and development of vaccines or drugs needs to be done in a short time. Here’s how blockchain technology can help in streamlining the entire process.
Vaccine Development Exploratory Stage
This is the initial stage of vaccine development that involves extensive research into the identification of an antigen, which induces the immune response in the body. The virus is isolated to identify the genome structure, which is the first stage identification of the antigens.
Since researchers all around the world are working and identifying hundreds of sequences, a blockchain-based collaboration platform is the need of the hour. It will enable the seamless sharing of immutable genomic data among the network participants and they will be able to trace each of the sequences back to the source when needed.
In the pre-clinical stage, the researchers develop a candidate vaccine, the potency of which is further tested and evaluated in animals and test tubes. With the use of blockchain technology, each test result can be authenticated and can be shared with anyone in the world securely.
It allows several pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, researchers, medical professionals and likewise to collaborate and share their deductions without the risk of losing the IP rights or individual competitive advantage. Such a secure collaborative approach helps in the faster development of a vaccine during a pandemic situation.
Clinical Development Stage
This is the clinical trial stage where the developed vaccine is tested on patients in several stages and ultimately the results are presented to the regulatory body to get approval for mass production and distribution. This is one of the most important and critical phases and needs recording of the human body’s response to the antidote. The observations are further analyzed and studied so that a comprehensive report can be presented to the regulatory body for approval.
Clinical trials have multiple fundamental and strict ethical policies as it involved human volunteers who agree to be tested on. They need to be compliant with the testing procedure and it falls on the part of the researchers to help the volunteers understand the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
The consent of the volunteers can be recorded in a blockchain-powered distributed ledger, where all personal details will remain shielded. This upholds the privacy of the patient and will encourage more people to volunteer for the trials. Blockchain ensures and ethical enrolment of the volunteers without the need for any kind of coercion.
Besides that, DLT also helps in better tracking of the drug’s reaction on different volunteers, the efficacy and all the side-effects included. Being immutable it becomes a strong proof to be presented to the regulatory bodies for approval of the drug.
Review and Approval by Regulatory Bodies
Regulatory bodies like the FDA can be made a network participant allowing them to overview the vaccine development stages as it progresses, which reduces the time usually take for approval.
After the vaccination gets approval, then comes the mass production and distribution phase which is equally complicated and time-taking, as now we have a supply chain to manage as well. If the manufacturing process gets managed by a blockchain network then the verifications happen faster without the need for too much paperwork and siloed information.
All the units involved in manufacturing can collaborate and blockchain will allow every stage starting from sourcing of the raw materials to manufacture and then distribution be monitored and tracked so that there is no lapse of time or quality.
The use of a DLT platform will allow tracking of the shipment as well, preventing the risk of counterfeiting. Besides that, once it is being mass distributed the health workers and medical practitioners will be able to contribute to the DLT ledger by citing their observations on the efficacy of the vaccine on patients. That will allow all the stakeholders to overview the efficacy of the drug in real-time.
Technological advances in this Digital Era gives us an edge in this pandemic situation. If utilized properly and implemented in the right manner it can be of great assistance in our fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, ultimately helping us eradicating it.