Fight deadly drug counterfeiting using blockchain

Fight deadly drug counterfeiting using blockchain

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Blockchain technology is designed to curb counterfeit drugs

"Harmful or inactive ingredients in counterfeit drugs cause an estimated one million deaths worldwide each year," reports Jens Mattke from the University of Bamberg in a recent press release. With the help of blockchain technology, however, it would be possible to prevent such counterfeits from ending up in pharmacies, for example, the Bamberg business IT specialist continues.

Anyone who relies on medicines and obtains them from the pharmacy should be able to assume that no counterfeits are being traded there. However, in spite of numerous control mechanisms, counterfeit medicines can sometimes be found on the market, the taking of which can have serious consequences. A large part of the pharmaceuticals sold worldwide is counterfeit, reports Mattke. In a recent study, the Bamberg research team examined how the blockchain can remedy this.

Serious health effects

According to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices in Germany, “the number of counterfeit drugs identified in the so-called legal supply chain, e.g. in a public pharmacy, overall low. ”But it should be borne in mind that taking a counterfeit drug can have serious health effects. A fundamental distinction should also be made as to whether counterfeit medicines are obtained from the legal supply chain or, for example, from unauthorized internet retailers.

Supply chains can be traced back to the manufacturer

For example, the problem of counterfeit drugs has serious implications and there is an urgent search for ways to force counterfeit drugs out of the market. The new study has now examined blockchain technology for verifying the authenticity of medicinal products. The supply chain should be traceable back to the manufacturer and counterfeit products could not be sold.

Medicines only from verified companies

In a case study, the team led by Jens Mattke examined the blockchain project "MediLedger", a blockchain platform developed by the technology company Chronicled in 2017, which anonymously records all units - every drug, every vaccine - and their transport routes. “This enables everyone to check whether a drug comes from verified companies so that counterfeit products are contained,” the researchers explain.

What is a blockchain?

"A blockchain is a database that is distributed on many computers and documents digital transactions" and, for example, the cryptocurrency Bitcoin is based on blockchain technology, the research team continues. All payments with Bitcoin are carried out via this public, decentralized database without a central authority, such as a bank, having control, explain the Bamberg researchers.

Challenges and recommendations for action

In the MediLedger project, the blockchain should make it possible to clearly verify the manufacturer of a drug, but there are some challenges associated with its practical implementation. "Using the 'MediLedger' project, we are showing the challenges that come with the new blockchain technology. And we give recommendations to companies who want to introduce this technology themselves ”; emphasizes Jens Mattke.

Central contact point required

For example, a recommendation concerns the project organization. For example, not all blockchain participants should manage the platform together, but for organizational and legal reasons it makes more sense - depending on the application scenario - that the participants determine a central contact point, reports co-author Axel Hund. This could carry out ongoing business activities in accordance with all parties involved.

Another finding is that at the moment many companies fear that competitors can draw conclusions about their business activities in a common system. But there is the possibility to adapt the blockchain applications so that this can be excluded and competitors can safely save the data in a blockchain.

All manufacturers must provide their data

The MediLedger project thus enables only transactions between verified companies to be approved, but blockchain participants cannot see which companies were involved. “For example, a wholesaler can check whether the medicine they have bought has only been traded by verified companies since it was manufactured, without finding out which middlemen were involved,” explains Mattke. In order to prevent the ingress of counterfeit medicines, however, it is imperative that all competitors store their data in a common IT system. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • University of Bamberg: Containing Counterfeit Medicines and Their Deadly Consequences (published February 7th, 2020),
  • Jens Mattke, Christian Maier, Axel Hund and Tim Weitzel: How an Enterprise Blockchain Application in the U.S. Pharmaceuticals Supply Chain is Saving Lives; in: MIS Quarterly Executive, Volume 18, Issue 4, December 2019,
  • Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM): Counterfeit medicines (accessed February 7, 2020),

Video: Timothy Mackey: Blockchain - The new frontier in the fight against counterfeit medicines? (August 2022).