1 min readUsing Blockchain Technology to Promote Fair and Timely Outbreak Research Cooperation

Washington, DC — In a Policy Forum, Mark van der Waal and colleagues illustrate how blockchain technology could be used to alleviate the systemic barriers that hinder cooperative research and development required to rapidly respond to imminent pathogenic threats like the current global COVID-19 pandemic. According to van der Waal et al., well-coordinated and cooperative research and development (R&D) efforts to identify and deliver medical interventions are essential to any effective outbreak response. Such global efforts hinge on the rapid sharing of resources such as pathogen samples, sequences, and functional genomic data, for example, between a variety of government, public health, private industry and academic researchers worldwide. However, as previous outbreak situations have shown, these cooperative efforts can be significantly hindered by systemic barriers, including the lack of trust in data confidentiality, prevailing and competing R&D interests, or conflicts over data ownership between disparate research stakeholders. Blockchain technology – a novel and flexible approach to decentralized data structuring – offers mechanisms that could be leveraged to overcome the challenges of exchanging pathogen information between public and private research institutions. Here, van der Waal et al. outline a conceptual blockchain-based system – ORBI (outbreak R&D blockchain infrastructure) – to demonstrate how it could be used to facilitate rapid dissemination of resources and global cooperation during outbreak response. ORBI, an integrated set of blockchain-enabled mechanisms, offers a tamper-proof decentralized system for documenting and tracking data exchange while preserving the stakes of individual researchers. The authors suggest that such a system could be implemented within well-established R&D systems currently in place.

Article adapted from an American Association for the Advancement of Science news release.

Publication: Blockchain-facilitated sharing to advance outbreak R&D. van der Waal, MB et al. Science (May 18, 2020): Click here to view.

Blockchain, decentralized data, ORBI, outbreak R&D blockchain infrastructure

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