In the wake of China’s latest vaccine scandal, many are pointing to the technology behind bitcoin as a possible solution. For others, it has too many drawbacks.
A scandal involving a Chinese pharmaceutical firm that forged documents relating to a rabies vaccine for babies has sparked a debate about whether blockchain, the technology best known for underpinning bitcoin, could be a solution to the nation’s food and drug safety problems.
Shenzhen-listed Changsheng Biotechnology was found to have fabricated production documents and product inspection records, and modified process parameters and equipment, according to the China Food and Drug Administration. The company and members of its management are currently under investigation by the police.
Chinese President Xi Jinping orders crackdown over ‘appalling’ vaccine scandal
Amid growing discussion online, many are advocating the use of blockchain in the pharmaceutical industry to restore public confidence in the health care system.
Xi Jinping (Project Syndicate)
Li Xiaolai, one of China’s best known virtual currency entrepreneurs who has 290,000 followers on the microblogging site Weibo, wrote on Monday that he believes the technology can help improve transparency.
Li Xiaolai (CoinDesk)
“If the entire vaccine supply-chain was to use the token-free blockchain solution to record everything from start to finish, then most of the problems in drug safety could be solved,” Li said.
One Shenzhen-listed software firm, YLZ Information Technology, saw its shares surge by nearly 10 per cent on Tuesday after the company was quoted in Chinese media as saying it is looking into how blockchain can be used to enhance vaccine safety.
There have already been a number of initiatives in China that use the technology to trace and track the entire supply chain of food, from farm to store, by simply scanning quick-response codes, including one led by US tech giant IBM.
In December IBM, along with China’s second largest e-commerce firm JD.com, US retailer Walmart and China’s Tsinghua University set up the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance to improve the tracking, traceability and safety of food, thereby increasing transparency across the country’s food supply chain.
But many in the blockchain industry have questioned whether the technology really could be the answer to food and drug safety problems.
Blockchain is a digital data structure, or ledger, commonly used for verifying and recording transactions using a network of computers rather than a centralised authority. Each entry, or block, is connected to the previous entry and is secured with cryptography, making the ledger resistant to modification.