Innovation in Pharma; from Blockchain to Medicines discovery

Posted on: 17/07/2020
medical face mask

Opportunities for digital technology supply chains to transform the pharmaceutical industry through the Manufacturing Made Smarter Competition.



The pharmaceutical industry has seen rapid developments in terms of technology, innovation, and practices over the last few years. Such changes can be attributed to rising patient awareness, increasing the cost of medicine, the entrance of medical insurers, and changes in rules and regulations.


With innovation being at the heart of this industry, the recent ISCF Manufacturing Made Smarter Pharmaceutical Supply Chain workshop organised by KTN in partnership with Innovate UK explored some key challenges and opportunities for digital technologies to escalate this innovation.


Blockchain has the ability to greatly modernise the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in areas related to transparency, privacy and traceability. One significant area of opportunity would be its use to provide more confidence in the privacy of information in clinical trials, which will open the door for people to provide more information. This could result in shorter cycles for drug development and discovery. Blockchain does not yet have the foothold in the UK Pharmaceutical industry that it has in China as there seems to be more appetite in China to invest and experiment in the technology in existing processes than there is in the UK.


Blockchain is still evolving. As it is never deployed alone, there is a need for the industry to master a digital transformation.It will become the norm alongside other technologies, therefore it the technology of the future that we should invest in.

Skills and the use of data

There are huge opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry to use big data to drive and evolve the industry, but we need to understand what skills are needed to develop and support the data analytics of the future.


Data modelling is easy to do in large pharmaceutical companies as there are dedicated teams of skilled people carrying this out. The ability for SMEs to implement and apply data analytics to supply chains is challenging. And the question is, how do SMEs ensure they deliver quality products when there is so much volume of data to be analysed, coupled with a lack of approaches. The ability to use digital systems to streamline this process could have a huge impact on the Pharmaceutical industry. However, to succeed, these businesses need to invest in skills such as data scientists and oncologists. Standards across the industry need to be set.

It’s easier for smaller cos to get going, but it is more difficult for them to drive the industry and the wider sector, that is easier for larger organisations to do. This highlights the need for more collaboration between the SMEs and larger pharmaceutical companies to find solutions.


The challenges facing Pharmaceutical companies where predictive and prescriptive analytics would benefit include;

a. Optimise end to end supply channels to make medicines available to patients quickly and cheaply and reduce risk and resilience

b. Predictive & prescriptive analytics is essential within manufacturing. Industry needs to be able to take and model their processes to turn this into digital twins, or adaptive controls, to give manufacturing processes that can adapt and get high-quality products at the end of the process.

c.World of clinical research – the traditional and current way to deliver clinical trials looks at the toxicity of drugs. Tools are becoming available to model characteristics of individuals to help create products. Utilising some of the digital supply chain innovations, industry would then be able to create drugs that are more effective, far-reaching and change our world!

De-risking Innovation

There needs to be a reasonable way to de-risk experimentation via innovation and proof of concepts.


Large pharmaceutical organisations don’t like risk. However, these organisations need to take risk to innovate. To introduce new scalable ways of working, industry needs to invest in proof of concepts.


The funding available via the ISCF Manufacturing Made Smarter competition could be used to tackle some or all of these challenges. Businesses should consider where they could innovate that make the biggest impact; expanding access to medicines to lots of people, using digital technologies to discover and develop new medicines globally. Alternatively, businesses could use the funding to develop end to end optimisation which would make supply chains more efficient. Another area of innovation could be the development of proof of concepts using blockchain technology to make products that are scalable.


Find out more about applying for the Manufacturing Made Smarter competition here.

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