The healthcare sector is no stranger to trends towards prediction, personalization, prevention, and participation. With information at the heart of these trends, healthcare data is becoming a vital success factor. Due to the highly sensitive nature of this data, however, access to it is rather difficult. Ocean Protocol is offering an interesting technological approach to solving this issue. That’s why we are forming a partnership aiming for an open health data economy.
Like in most industries, data is key for Big Pharma. In R&D, data-based methods like machine learning or image recognition are already widely used. However, getting access to health data to train those algorithms is rather difficult – and sometimes even includes the usage of databases from organisations or within states that have rather permissive data protection regulations. Big Tech, on the other hand, follows a different approach and collects consumer health data with their devices – or by taking over other companies, the latest example being the acquisition of Fitbit by Google.
The great interest in health data by companies such as Google shows its immense potential. For top pharmaceutical companies, using real world health data could, for example, help in selecting cohorts for clinical trials to develop and evaluate new drugs, digital therapeutics, or personalized treatments. It could go as far as predicting diseases before they emerge. Last but not least, it could bring Big Pharma closer to patients.
Healthcare ecosystem is digitalizing rapidly
What distinguishes the pharmaceutical industry from a lot of other industries which are in the process of digitalizing is that the availability of data is not the main challenge. In fact, we see the healthcare ecosystem digitalizing rapidly and generating a vast amount of health data: Whereas as little as 153 exabytes of health data were generated in 2013, statista’s data suggests it will rise to around 2,315 this year – a 15-fold increase in only 7 years – and to double every 73 day according to IBM.
While the amount of health data is rising rapidly, there is a variety of challenges for the pharmaceutical industry – many of which have yet to be resolved:
- Much of the global health data remains stored in silos and is hardly harnessed in a way that creates value.
- The health data is scattered across different organisations, which makes it hard to capture its value for most give use cases.
- The inherently sensitive data itself and the regulatory nature of the healthcare ecosystem’s environment make smooth communication and processes across the ecosystem difficult, thus slowing down the growth and development of the collaborative ecosystem.
- Besides altruism, consumers and patients have no reason to give the pharmaceutical industry access to their data. They rather give it to Big Tech companies in return for added value via apps or devices.
Whereas establishing a data economy based on the traditional means of trade may prove difficult due to regulations, employing a combination of blockchain technology and AI may be an interesting contender in resolving these issues. A secure access control could allow for increased transparency and trust. This is where Ocean Protocol with its blockchain technology can help, advancing us to a ‘can’t be evil’ data economy.
Ocean Protocol allows for a decentralized approach
But how does this work? First and foremost, Ocean Protocol gives data an identity — one can think of it as an IP — so that it can be truly owned. Once ownership is established (via registering a data asset on Ocean), no one else can claim ownership for the same asset. In addition, smart contracts allow data owners to retain control of how their data can be accessed (open, restricted, private, etc.) and by whom. These two components eliminate uncertainties for data owners and reinforce trust in sharing.
Moreover, one big advantage of blockchain is the traceability. Data sharing and transactional record can be found and data provenance can be established. With all transactions being tracked during model training — from data acquisition, preprocessing, to model training and testing — Ocean Protocol can reproduce a giant provenance trail including information on which data was used, who was working on the model or contributed to the data value chain, and when. This provenance trail is comparable to the food chain and will allow for the creation of accountable AI. This is particularly important in healthcare because if a classifier made a wrong prediction, it is important to trace back to the source and identify what went wrong.
What’s unique is that Ocean Protocol provides an infrastructure for decentralized machine learning. It is bringing compute to data, rather than the other way around, for training and for inference. This further ensures privacy is preserved since the data will not leave its premise. Knowing that their data will not be exposed or copied, data owners will be more willing to share health data. This opens up access to data from multiple sites, which especially helps in disease research, and in rare disease areas where data collection and acquisition itself poses a critical challenge.
Decentralized approach could help Big Pharma
Ocean Protocol offers a technological way to automate trust and verification, enable public and private institutions as well as individuals to unlock health data that is currently sitting in silos, in their own vaults. This is, what makes the technological approach of Ocean Protocol so appealing. It envisions an open health data economy, in which
- data is not stored in a single point. No company or organisation has to host and secure all the data and no one owns all the data.
- patients are gaining full and detailed control over their health data.
- it is possible to give only AI access to health data.
- data is available for creating added value, that had been stored in silos beforehand.
In the future, such a decentralized approach could help Big Pharma to maintain its position and prevent it from becoming too vulnerable to new market entrants with direct access to patients such as Big Tech and startups.
This is where we believe Ocean Protocol offers interesting new use cases which can be the foundation for such a data marketplace. The advantages of blockchain grow, of course, with the size of the network. The more participants there are and the more data they provide, the higher are the benefits of blockchain.
Think big but start small
That said, the question remains how such a data marketplace could become reality. Ultimately, someone just needs to start somewhere. An impetus to start the project. Thus, the first and biggest question is: Where will this impetus come from?
The answer: Let’s think big but start small – by identifying use cases for which there is a convincing business case and where blockchain technology, such as the Ocean Protocol, can be the game changer. An example, how such an approach could look like is the joint project of Ocean Protocol with Roche Diagnostics in Singapore: In a pilot involving 150 patients, they aim to automate the exchange of critical blood levels from patients’ self-monitoring device CoaguChek INRange with their hospitals.
In the next months, we want to elaborate more on use cases like this together with Ocean Protocol. While the technological basis is Ocean Protocol’s own decentralized data exchange protocol, Zühlke will provide expertise in evaluating and implementing innovation projects. We see a huge potential in an open health data economy and we are looking forward to approaching this idea step by step – with both Ocean Protocol and other partners from the pharmaceutical industry that share our vision and want to shape the governance structure of what is to come.
If you are also interested in realizing an open health data ecosystem, send us a message!