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Avoiding the falsification of medicines with blockchain

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Counterfeit medicines are a problem around the world, with many producers of false medicines attempting to illegitimate drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Blockchain could be the answer to stem the tide and the U.S. FDA are interested.

Concerns with falsified medicines extend to where drugs which are targeted at those who are seriously ill. These types of medicines may be contaminated or they can contain the wrong ingredient or no active ingredient at all. Alternatively, the drugs may have the right active ingredient but at the wrong dose. In other words, such medicines may harm the patient or exert no beneficial effect at all.

The rise in counterfeit medicines is linked to a general increase in the number of people using the Internet to purchase commodities and this includes those using the Internet to self-diagnose and self-prescribe. This practice can lead to people purchasing ineffective medicines; medicines that normally require a prescription; or purchasing what they think are legitimate medicines but which are in fact fake.

For many years regulators, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency have taken measures to prevent counterfeit medicines from entering the drug supply chain. One such example of a practice designed to reduce counterfeiting is by implementing product serialization. Serialization requires a comprehensive system to track and trace the passage of prescription drugs through the entire supply chain.

An alternative could be based on blockchain. “Blocks” on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of information, which store information about transactions, say the date, time, and transaction price. Blocks also store information about who is participating in transactions, and information that distinguishes the block from other blocks. The system is designed to provide transparency and security.

In theory, with a pharmaceutical blockchain it would be impossible to tamper with a medicine or to swap legitimate medicines with fake medicines. In addition, someone purchasing a medicine would be able to assess where the medicine came from (that is, did it come from a bona fide manufacturer?)

It is for this reason that the U.S. FDA is examining the potential for blockchain, as Engadget reports. The federal agency has begun a pilot program that enables the drug supply chain explore ways to track prescription medicine.

According to the FDA, blockchain will enable the “use of innovative and emerging approaches for enhanced tracing and verification of prescription drugs in the U.S. to ensure suspect and illegitimate products do not enter the supply chain.”

Pharmaceutical companies have until March 11, 2019 to apply. The pilot will not produce actionable results until 2023. In the meantime, more conventional methods for seeking to eliminate counterfeit medicines will have to suffice.

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Purolator to design tech-driven courier hub in Toronto

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A new national technology hub is being designed and built by courier service provider Purolator in Toronto, reflecting growth in the area’s e-commerce sector. The $339 million project will extend to 60 acres.

Purolator Inc.’s new super-hub in Toronto is set to open in 2021 and the expectation is that it will triple the capacity of the courier provider’s network. The development of the hub forms part of a wider $1-billion investment the company intends to inject into Canada across the next five years. Included in the plans is the intention to upgrade the vehicle fleet, taking advantage of more advanced technology. The central hub will help to coordinate Purolator’s 172 operations facilities and 111 shipping centres.

Also included in the scheme are plans to focus on the customer. This includes improving the online experience by making the main website easier to navigate. There will also be innovations in automation and the hub will be designed to meet environmental standards, meeting the Toronto Green Standards program (which details Toronto’s sustainable design requirements).

Quoted by Bloomberg, Purolator CEO John Ferguson says that the announcement “is one of the most ambitious in our company’s history and will future-proof our business. Purolator has experienced record growth over the past three years. We picked up and delivered over one quarter of a billion packages in 2018 and we expect our growth trajectory to continue.”

The Purolator hub is just one of several innovations making use of Toronto’s growing technology infrastructure. E-commerce company Shopify plans to increase its operations and to employ more staff over the next three years in the city.

Toronto’s cultural and economic diversity has fueled the city’s rapid growth in a number of high-tech areas, particularly for startups and developments in areas like artificial intelligence. This reflects the Canadian government’s plans to build and keep successful startup ecosystems, especially in the Toronto area.

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Connecting with ‘US:’ The necessity and value of the Internet of Things

Done right, the Internet of Things is the Internet of Us, connecting the physical and digital in a human-centered way that improves the world intelligently.

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By Frank Antonysamy, Vice President of Cognizant’s Global IoT and Engineering Services

U.S. food safety has been a concern since the days of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel about the stockyards and meatpacking industries in Chicago. Public reaction to The Jungle compelled Teddy Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to pass food safety laws and establish the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1906.

More than a century later, threats clearly remain to the safety of domestic and global food supplies and the purity of water sources. Recently, we’ve learned about significant, ongoing, even deadly threats to our food and water. Food recalls have ranged from romaine lettuce to beef in the last 12 months; the tragedy in Flint, Mich., reminds us that poisonous chemicals still make their way into our water, as well. Faulty equipment or poorly executed processes often are to blame.

[Read more: The State of the Union for IoT Intelligence]

Solving Safety Challenges with Internet of Things

It doesn’t have to be this way. As the Internet of Things (IoT) begins to permeate our global infrastructure, sensor-equipped devices will soon outnumber the global population. There’s no reason to wait until communities face a food- or water-borne threat before fixing malfunctioning equipment or improving safety procedures.

Today we can automatically and rapidly glean information from IoT-enabled devices – about temperatures in IoT-equipped food storage and transportation equipment, for example, or the chemicals sensed by the pumps that filter and move our water, or the monitoring capabilities of the medical devices we increasingly rely on in hospitals and the home. With such intelligence, communities and businesses can address problems before they become a threat.

[Download]: Advancing Smart Manufacturing Operations Value with Industry 4.0

Increasing Food Safety on a Massive Scale

Recently, I had a conversation with Internet of Things maven Stacey Higginbotham on one of her Stacey on IoT podcasts. We discussed Cognizant’s work with Internet of Things adoption, and the ways in which these solutions can help businesses and the people they serve.

We talked about how one of the world’s largest sellers of fresh and frozen foods uses IoT-enabled refrigerators and freezers to reduce food spoilage across its global supply chain. Such spoilage not only results in financial losses due to food waste, but can also present risks to consumers. Although the business had already implemented alarms on the refrigeration systems in its distribution centers to signal malfunctions, it could take 36 hours for the maintenance operations team to respond – clearly too long when it comes to food safety and waste. There was also no mechanism to proactively monitor the refrigeration units and ensure timely service calls.

Our solution minimizes energy consumption and seeks to ensure consumer safety. It ties together sensors, cloud-based monitoring, algorithms that trigger alerts and warnings, reminders in handheld applications and a direct link of performance data to individual employees to encourage compliance with the company’s internal food safety protocols. The system covers hundreds of freezers, thousands of deliveries, 600 million data points and millions of pounds of food.

The results have been impressive. After rolling out the system to 100 of its stores, the business reduced priority response times from 36 hours to four hours, and decreased food loss by 10% in the first year by predicting refrigeration failures. The company aims to expand the system to 5,300 stores, with the potential to reduce operating costs by up to $40 million while ensuring the safe storage of food. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

[Download]: Designing Manufacturing’s Digital Future

From Providing Pumps to Offering Insights

These same principles guided our solution for a global manufacturer of high-technology industrial water pumps used in a range of applications, from providing drinking water for cities and villages, to processing waste water, to clearing and filtering the huge volumes of water moved during deep-sea drilling.

With the movement of all that water through its sensor-equipped and self-monitoring pumps, the manufacturer had access to a flood of information on everything from performance-based data on pressure and volume to the chemical composition of the water. By collecting and analyzing this information, the company could leverage and monetize its insights into not just equipment performance but also the safety of the water it delivers. If a certain chemical spikes in the water supply, for example, alerts are triggered, and municipalities can investigate. If water pressure or volume falls outside set parameters, precautions can be taken, including automatic alerts and even preemptive shutdowns.

Buyers of the pumps want this information. So, while using this data to improve the performance of its products, the business can also share insights with its clients on a subscription basis, opening up new revenue streams. The business is no longer just providing world-class high-tech pumps; it’s offering customers critical insights from the pumps it sells, as a value-added service. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

[Download]: Advancing Smart Manufacturing Operations Value with Industry 4.0

Connecting Things; Connecting to Our Needs

What links these two examples is their prioritization of real human needs as part of the solution. Clean and safe food and water are vital to human health, and companies that help provide themadd value.

For many years, large industrial enterprises have lived in two separate worlds: the world of all their physical assets (factories, equipment, buildings, people) and the world of their digital assets (software, workflows, algorithms, reports). Through sensor technology, network capability, security advances and IoT platforms, these two worlds are now becoming seamlessly integrated like never before.

Today, the shorthand for this ongoing integration is the Internet of Things. In reality, though, it’s the Internet of Us. Technology offers us a path to connect our physical world with a digital one, in which we occupy a new space and a new future: a place where the physical and digital come together, enabling businesses to transform their operational and business models, in a scalable way, through intelligence. (Hear more on the Internet of Us in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

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Healthcare

AI technology from IBM detects breast cancer risk before it happens

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IBM has taken a step forward in disease prevention by designing an artificial intelligence technology that can predict the risk of breast cancer developing up to one year before the first signs of cancer appear.

With this new step in medical diagnosis, IBM has developed an artificial intelligence model which is capable of predicting malignant breast cancer within a year with an 87 percent accuracy rate (when the output from the machine is compared with expert radiologists.) In addition, the technology could correctly predict 77 percent of non-cancerous cases.

The prediction methods uses both mammogram images and medical records in order to make the assessment, based on a data review of the medical evidence. This is the first application of AI to draw upon both images and data to make a prediction in relation to breast cancer.

At the heart of the deep neural network technology is an algorithm, which was trained by IBM technologists along with medical professionals from Israel’s largest healthcare organizations. The training of the artificial intelligence took place using anonymized mammography images which were linked to biomarkers (like patient reproductive history) together with clinical data. The training data-set consisted of 52,936 images from 13,234 women who underwent at least one mammogram between 2013 and 2017.

The aim of the medtech is not to replace the physician, but to act as a ‘second pair of eyes’, providing a backup in the event that something has been missed through conventional patient assessment. This could prove especially useful in areas with staff shortages where a second medical professional is not available to provide a second assessment.

An assessment of the technology has been published in the journal Radiology. The research paper is titled “Predicting Breast Cancer by Applying Deep Learning to Linked Health Records and Mammograms.”

In related news, IBM is applying artificial intelligence to catch Type 1 diabetes much earlier. IBM’s other health technology project could help identify patients at risk and help chart a course for tracking the condition. The predictive tool is a joint project between IBM and JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

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