Blockchain Opportunities in Clinical Research


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is expected to boost the pace of clinical research and medical innovation which can positively impact patient lives. The medical profiles and histories of patients are aggregated, analyzed and curated to understand diseases, make new discoveries and test research hypotheses. However significant barriers existing in obtaining this data and this may adversely impact the clinical trials. Just like it is the basis of cryptocurrencies which are stored on crypto wallet collectibles for privacy and security, Blockchain is touted to be the disruptive technology which has the potential of resolving these medical data issues as well as being a novel solution to securely storing and sharing medical information. This blog discussed whether clinical research is really the new frontier for the application of Blockchain.

Data Donation Issues in Clinical Research

Some of the major issues pertaining to data donation in clinical research are detailed below: –

  1. Limited accessibility: It has been observed that, though investigators and sponsors in a clinical study actively recruit patients, the majority of cases involve patients suffering from diseases to seek out opportunities to participate in medical research. These patients usually seek advice from their treating physicians who are unlikely to have knowledge of applicable trials or participation requirements. This lack of accessible information can lead to patient frustration and inclination towards research opportunities.
  2. Patient Incentives: In clinical research, patients are expected to act as data aggregators while providing their medical histories for reference of researchers. This is a time-consuming and inconvenient process which leads to data redundancy and fatigue of the patients while filling up multiple forms. Also, there is hardly any immediate incentive for patients to provide such detailed medical profiles and these may hamper the accuracy of the trials.
  3. Lack of trust: How do we know that our medical information is private and secure? Since medical histories contain deeply personal and sensitive data, hackers find this information very valuable and it possesses a high resale value on the black market. As a result, patients may be hesitant to share this information.
  4. Lack of interoperability: Medical information is stored in different formats and systems, which makes the task of collating and consolidating data in a representable form an arduous one. Data inconsistency can lead to skewed clinical research results and it is usually left to the patients to ensure that the data is presented in a clear and concise manner.
Blockchain Solution

The potential for Blockchain to resolve these issues is described as follows: –

  1. Greater Accessibility: A blockchain shared among patients, pharma firms and other stakeholders can act as the source of truth for clinical research opportunities.
  2. Incentives: Blockchain can incentivize sharing of information through immediate transparency into clinical study results and crypto-tokens. These crypto-tokens can be awarded to patients who donate and share clinical study information, thus allowing opportunities such as copay relief or other use of currency.
  3. Data privacy: Patient information on the blockchain can be de-identified and permissioned through smart contracts so that only trusted viewers of the data can associate a blockchain record with the underlying individual who donated the information. This allows researchers to analyze a rich set of de-identified information.
  4. Information interoperability: Blockchain has the potential to facilitate interoperability by creating a level playing field where there is no single owner of information, all participants maintain their own copies of the data and underlying patients maintain their identity. The distributed nature and capabilities of Blockchain make it easier for adoption among groups that do not inherently share information with one another.
The Final Call

There is no way to predict the life-changing scenarios in medical research which can be facilitated by Blockchain. For instance, a decade ago, it would have been inconceivable to think that one day, patients may be able to remotely send their clinical samples with each touchpoint being tracked by Blockchain, and have immediate visibility into study results, without having to leave their homes. Blockchain can also help to make medical science more proactive (e.g., predicting the next pandemic) rather than the reactive model which is in place currently. The applications of Blockchain into clinical research are endless and we are in a unique position to take advantage of the benefits on offer!