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Blockchain: strengthening the weakest links

New platforms are helping cannabis companies improve supply chain management, protect intellectual property and take their medicinal product development to the next level


June 26, 2020
By Treena Hein


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Photo: ©leowolfert / Adobe Stock

It’s hard to open a website, magazine or newspaper these days without seeing more news about blockchains. Deloitte, one of the largest professional services networks in the world, did a Global Blockchain Survey last year, finding that blockchains are gaining traction in an increasing number of industries. This is due, state the authors, to “a seasoning of the collective opinion towards blockchain based on increased exposure to the technology and a better understanding of its abilities and drawbacks in practical, day-to-day, business use cases.”

Perhaps the most common use of blockchains – or at least, its most common expected use as adoption of the technology processes – is to boost efficiency and prevent fraud in supply chains. In Canada’s cannabis industry, as in other sectors, blockchains enable automation of record-keeping for supply chain participants as well as regulators, easy and quick product recall, and more accurate auditing, explains Daniel Reitzik, CEO at DMG Blockchain Solutions in Vancouver.

Blockchain, says Rietzik, does not replace any of the existing systems already used in Canada’s cannabis sector to manage seed to sale, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), shipping and logistics, warehousing or point of sale. However, when data from each of these different systems along the supply chain is incorporated into a blockchain, an additional, highly-secure and cohesive record is created. With this shared digital ledger in place, every party along the chain, from the licensed producer (LP) to point-of-sale, has a real-time picture of where the product is located, along with pertinent associated details. That is, at every point along the chain, information is added in blocks by various parties, and every time new information is added, everyone’s identical copy of the blockchain is updated. None of the information can be changed; generally, if an error is made, there is a note made about it and the original data remains.

The implementation of the technology should occur as soon as possible in Canada’s cannabis industry supply chain, says Reitzik, because to delay will risk trust. “The cannabis industry is moving from a black market to a grey market to a legal industry,” he explains, “and as such the industry has a responsibility to ensure that the provenance/origin of all products in the supply chain is irrefutable and immutable.” DMG Blockchain’s system Wazabi will be ‘beta tested’ soon with a full platform release later this year.

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Securing IP
Another way blockchains are now being harnessed in various sectors, including cannabis, is to protect intellectual property (IP). TruTrace Technologies, for example, has created a blockchain platform called StrainSecure that does this specifically for cannabis. To explain how it works, TruTrace CEO Robert Galarza first outlines how blockchain differs from conventional databases. “Traditionally, databases record digital information very similar to filing physical records within a filing cabinet,” he says. “In the same way records can quickly be found in the cabinet by alphabetic or numerical tabs, organizations can access information from a database through a basic query or search system. This process works incredibly well within an organization, as well as when dealing with small amounts of information. However, as the volume of information increases, or as information begins to be shared amongst multiple organizations, it becomes more and more difficult to access and share this data safely and rapidly.”

If each organization has their own ‘filing cabinet’ of sorts, he explains, all the other stakeholders are forced to depend on the accuracy of those records. That’s potentially a big problem in itself, but added to that is the fact that every stakeholder can have different systems (and levels) for data security and information-sharing. Blockchains solve all these problems.

Since quality assurance and standardization are critical to ensuring safe and consistent cannabis products, this was the data area that TruTrace has focused on with its blockchain platform. “Due to the decentralized and immutable nature of blockchain as a database, the master genetic and chemical record of unique strains and seeds can be recorded and protected at a specific point in time,” Galarza says. “Similar to land title records, the record of who and when unique IP from cultivation and breeding is owned could serve as an effective means by which to prove ownership.”

In the StrainSecure platform, genetic and chemical profiles are created for every ‘mother’ plant and a detailed digital record is registered and recorded for each client. All critical data, such as information about manufacturing processes, are recorded for every batch and lot and tracked to the end products being consumed, Galarza explains. The platform automates and digitizes the scheduling and tracking of tests as well, which reduces the inefficient processes that are currently the norm to manage all this.

Boosting efficacy and more
In order to develop new systems aimed at improving the experience of cannabis patients and consumers and the development of better products, TruTrace recently partnered with Strainprint Technologies, a company that already offers tools that enable patients, doctors, pharmacists, producers, retailers and regulators to monitor (or self-monitor in the case of patients) the use of medical cannabis across North America. These systems will employ blockchain to ensure data authenticity and security, and are intended to be integrated with electronic medical records, seed-to-sale and point-of-sale software systems used by Shoppers Drug Mart and many other companies.

In partnering to do this, the companies are demonstrating a belief that as the cannabis industry continues to mature, there will be an increasing focus on product validation and standardization of treatment so that patients can derive the maximum benefits from their cannabis medication. Indeed, Strainprint CEO Andrew Muroff believes real-world patient tracking against tested products is the only way to advance the scientific understanding of cannabis to enable better product development.

The new systems will connect validated product data with ‘authenticated patient data’ – data reported by patients related to the outcomes they are experiencing from use of their cannabis medication, authenticated in two ways. The information is first tracked in real-time by patients and validated by physicians (they confirm a given patient is being treated for a specific health condition or conditions). Secondly, the data is tracked against products validated in terms of their DNA/chemical profile as well as any variance in chemical profile by batch. “For now, it is product ingredient and genetic data that will be validated as a baseline at the time of testing and stored on a blockchain,” Muroff explains. “Future tested batches of any such product will be appended to the blockchain record for that product to prove authenticity and variance/drift batch over batch. This will help protect IP for producers and, when combined with authenticated patient reporting, provide the only source of ‘real-world use’ data to improve manufacturing and marketing.”

For patients, the suite of systems will include next-generation versions of the Strainprint mobile app and integrate ‘pharmacogenetics’ (the study of how one’s genetics can influence medication outcomes), Bluetooth and more. For their part, doctors will be able to access an expanded set of patient monitoring and reporting tools in the ‘Strainprint Analytics – Clinic Edition’ platform; they will also have a new app, and be able to use patient questionnaires and virtual ‘research rooms.’

With these new tools as with all other information handling in both the cannabis and health care sectors, protection of privacy is crucial. On this point, Murroff explains that “in all cases, Strainprint tools and technologies are privacy-compliant to the highest standards in North America (HIPAA, the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act; PIPEDA, Canada’s federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act; and PHIPA, Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act) and soon will have General Data Protection Regulation compliance for use in the European Union. All patient data is always at rest on secure servers in Canada.”