When choosing medicine, customers must be confident that it will have the desired therapeutic effect, and that the vaccines have been stored in proper conditions. However, in real life, consumers have none of these guarantees, says Alexandr Vinogradov, head of ITMO University’s Biochemistry Cluster.
“As scientists who, in addition to fundamental research, also work on applied pharmaceutical research and chemical engineering, we often encounter a particular issue. Chemists create new medical products and drug delivery systems, discover new active ingredients, etc. But every time we stop and think about one simple thing: whatever new, amazing properties a new product has, and no matter how effective it is, does the end user have any guarantee that it will, in fact, be of quality? In other words, will the store-bought vaccine really protect my child from disease or will it be an inactive vaccine?” – he explains.
In the same vein, there are no guarantees on the quality of the product when major companies purchase pharmaceutical and chemical materials in bulk. Of course, the parties’ responsibilities are formally outlined in their contract, but in the event that a low-quality product is supplied (even if the customer company is able to prove it), the delays caused to production will result in a major loss, adds Alexander Vinogradov.
As a solution to this problem, specialists from ITMO University’s international laboratory SCAMT together with experts from Aira have proposed using blockchain technology in the production process of pharmaceutical and chemical products. The core idea is that all key parameters of all stages of production, from the first use of raw material to the sale of the end product to customers, can be controlled, providing all participants in the chain, including the end customer, to monitor the quality and safety of the product.
How it works
The technology is based on the lab’s new product called “Blockator”. The scientists have developed a biocide system (a biocide is a chemical substance used to combat harmful and pathogenic organisms – Ed.) of prolonged effect, which can eliminate bacteria and viruses of nearly all kinds, mitigating all effects on a human’s biological condition.
A Japanese product currently exists the function of which is, similarly, based on the use of chlorine dioxide. As Alexandr Vinogradov explains, what makes the Russian scientists’ invention different is selective sorption: the lattice parameters are such that there is no accumulation of chlorine-based harmful molecular substances, which do not only eliminate bacteria but may also inflict serious harm on the human body.
To assert their product’s safety, as well as to ensure that the concentration of harmful substances was not exceeded during production, the team began the development of a new blockchain-based system.
“We’ve already proven experimentally that, thanks to this unique selectivity that lets it sorb exclusively chlorine dioxide-based biocide, our agent is, indeed, safer in contrast with other products. There are a number of technological advantages in terms of both production and function. Most importantly, when we introduce blockchain technology, we can ensure that the end customer will buy a product of desired quality with harmful substances below the concentration limit,” – says Alexandr Vinogradov.
The team has already produced a prototype production line that includes all stages of the product’s production cycle. Seeing as the concentration of chlorine dioxide biocide is a critical parameter in the production of raw material, the developers have used special sensors that register various data throughout the production. This data includes detailed information on the concentration of biocide in relation to its permissible level, as well as time, place of manufacture and the manufacturer’s coordinates.
As per the project concept, this data is then collected and provided via a unique QR code. Those who purchase the material are given the hash data for the QR code; this way, they can monitor how the product is stored, where it’s shipped and in what amount. The dealers, in turn, distribute this information to their client network, supplying each individual product with a unique data set. When the end customer buys the product and uses a smartphone to scan the code, they initiate a decentralized data search and end up with a unique access code, explains Alexander Vinogradov. Because by that point the data is stored on numerous servers, it cannot be hacked into or modified in any way. This way, the end customers can verify that no infractions were made in the course of manufacturing and that the product is safe.
“Once it’s activated, the customer is practically in direct contact with the manufacturer. This system doesn’t just prove the efficiency of using blockchain in production; it also shows how necessary it is on today’s pharmaceutical and commodity markets, where the end consumers always have a need for quality assurance of the product they purchase,” – says Alexander Vinogradov, adding that in the future this technology may see use in other processes.
Development began in January 2018 when an inter-disciplinary team was assembled. In addition to chemistry specialists, the project also involves developers from AIRA LAB, whose technological solutions serve as the foundation of the system, as well as data processing and cybersecurity specialists, who ensure secure data transfer on several stages: from the stage when production information is converted to digital data, to the stage when the data is processed, stored, converted to blockchain-appropriate format, and up to the stage of assessment of final product.
“This project’s core idea is that of transparent supply chains,” – explains Aleksandr Kapitonov, an assistant at ITMO University’s Department of Computer Science and Control Systems and member of AIRA. – “But there are many tasks that come with setting up these chains: how do we structure information, how do we present it to users and how do we visualize it? How did we answer them? We’re developing systems and algorithms that let us structure data on chemical processes, production stages, models, structures, and approaches in a way that makes all the stages of the chain, from initial shipment from the production plant to the product’s arrival to the point of final sale, understandable to the consumers.”
At this point, the team has already identified the parameters by which the production process must be tracked; they’ve set up sensors, collected data and stored it in a database that lets them store data arrays unchanged. Right now, the developers are working on specific platform solutions that will let all members of the chain receive and analyze the data in a format they find suitable; for instance, a logistics company that deals with shipping will need a different kind of data than a regular customer would, explains Aleksandr Kapitonov.
Alexander Vinogradov adds that, as of now, Blockator is undergoing certification and will soon be ready for sale. The product is suitable for both personal use and application at major state and private institutions for air purification. The substance is produced in granular form and can come in individual packaging or used as a filtration element in ventilation systems.