Walmart Joins Second Drug-Tracking Blockchain Pilot

Retail giant Walmart announced on Thursday that it would participate in a second drug-verification pilot, this time with drugmaker Merck, IBM, and KPMG. The pilot is adding more flavor of DLT to the drug-tracking use case.

It was recently reported that Walmart was joining the MediLedger consortium consists of pharmaceutical manufacturers such as Pfizer and giant pharmaceutical wholesalers Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson.

While MediLedger is based on a private version of Ethereum known as Parity, the Walmart/IBM project will utilize Hyperledger Fabric.

Significant retailers are seemingly becoming more comfortable with the blockchain tech and exploring different options. Target is reportedly joining a Hyperledger supply chain tracking project dubbed Grid, while working on its blockchain project, ConsenSource.

Walmart is among the most prominent companies utilizing DLT, as part of IBM’s Food Trust. The system is already out of testing and is utilized to monitor the movement of vegetables and fruits from the farm to grocery shelves.

“We are learning, which is the point of these pilots, but our ultimate goal through both is to create a safer, more transparent supply chain for our customers,” Walmart spokesperson Marilee McInnis stated.

Such pharmaceutical DLTs are now coming to light as the US FDA completes its approval of platforms for inclusion in a pilot program mandated by the government.

The Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) expects companies to determine, trace, and track vaccines and prescription medicines distributed in the US, including a fairly granular level on these products’ packaging.

According to IBM’s Global Leader for Blockchain Solutions in Healthcare and Life Sciences Mark Treshock, the latest drug pilot will build on Big Blue’s work with Walmart.

“The project with KPMG Merck and Walmart, even though it’s a pilot, is going to be leveraging the production blockchain platforms that we have developed for Walmart with FoodTrust and also with Maersk in TradeLens,” he stated adding: “So, it’s not just a science experiment.”

Treshock noted that food and drugs will not co-exist on the same blockchain and that FoodTrust depends on similar data standards like GS1.

Regarding Walmart’s participation in a Hyperledger pilot with IBM while working with Mediledger’s Ethereum blockchain, MediLedger co-lead Eric Garvin commented that it was not surprising as IBM and Walmart partner on FoodTrust.

“Many pharma companies are participating in multiple pilots,” he stated. “The strength of the MediLedger pilot is that it includes a diverse mix of industry companies (all segments of the supply chain, large companies, small companies, brand manufacturers, generics) and has the greatest support with at least 20 companies involved.”

The mandate of the FDA for drug tracking mentions “interoperability” as a fundamental requirement and advantage of supply chain digitalization. It raises a question of whether competing enterprise blockchain protocols could be designed to communicate with one another or if businesses would need to consolidate platforms.

“We feel it’s less about the technology, whether Hyperledger or ethereum – although that is certainly important – and more about interoperability at the business model level, by that I mean coming together and creating open networks,” Treshock remarked.