Axel Schumacher highlights the vital importance of AI and blockchain for the future success of pharmaceutical companies, the significant knowledge gap that currently exists within Big Pharma, and why, therefore, now is the time for these firms to invest in AI and blockchain start-ups.


While almost everyone is talking about AI and blockchain, surprisingly few in pharma use those technologies or research them

Healthcare is on the cusp of another major paradigm shift. The combination of blockchain with artificial intelligence and big data will be indispensable in building a global precision-medicine ecosystem that optimally connects patients, clinicians, researchers, and healthy individuals. AI systems increase in performance with more data, and blockchain-based data platforms are ideal for collecting this vast array of data; as such the combination of those technologies is of enormous value. Ultimately, blockchain will improve vital areas: AI-based diagnostics, big data analytics, data security, data sharing, health information exchange, identification of counterfeit drugs, patient engagement and vertical business models.


However, while almost everyone is talking about AI and blockchain, surprisingly few in pharma use those technologies or research them. This lack of determination is a major mistake.


AI and the ability of blockchain to democratize big data will not only generate value based on better decision-making, optimized innovation, improved efficiency of research, data integration, and faster/cheaper clinical trials. Those technologies will also help to tackle one of the major problems of our species: ideologies. Ideologies are a set of shared beliefs within a group. This body of beliefs and ideas influence the way individuals think, act, and view the world. Ideologies come in many different flavours – capitalism, anarchism, communism, liberalism, racism, Marxism and Jordan Petersonism, to name a few. We see it in religion, politics, art and, unfortunately, even in science.


One example is the phenomenon that, despite enormous efforts, we have barely witnessed any progress in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. This lack of progress is partly due to the fact that around 30 years ago, a group of people decided that the amyloid theory was the way to go. The amyloid hypothesis brought a simple explanation of a condition that was very poorly understood. This may be the reason it quickly became accepted. The amyloid theory is an ideology that was unchallenged for too many years. Not surprisingly, despite the massive investment in Alzheimer’s drugs (over 500 clinical trials), there have been many more failures than treatment successes.


Here, AI offers a huge opportunity to change the status-quo in Alzheimer’s and other complex diseases. Self-learning AI combined with blockchain lifts us from our ideologies and biases. Our brain is always looking for patterns, even if they are not there. Our prefrontal cortex is a pattern search machine, but it is not very good at it. Pattern processing is the fundamental basis of the most unique features of the human brain including intelligence, invention, language, imagination, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts, gods, faces on Mars, and Jesus portraits on toast. At least when it comes to drug development, let algorithms do the pattern processing; it will give us immense insight into human biology and will lead us to understand the patterns of diseased nature.


That’s the reason why now is the time to invest massively in AI and blockchain start-ups.


The fact is that virtually none of the large pharma companies have enough in-house expertise in AI or blockchain. In both domains, a multitude of use cases requires partnering between early start-ups and established companies. Start-ups usually focus on one specific niche, providing solutions with the latest innovations. To stay competitive with tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Alibaba, or Tencent that understand those technologies and that invest billions in applying their knowledge in healthcare, pharma players need to invest in truly innovative areas.


Now is the time to invest massively in AI and blockchain start-ups

For AI that means areas such as temporal convolutional networks, recursive cortical networks, transfer learning, or general artificial intelligence. The interesting blockchain companies to support are those that work on zero-knowledge cryptography, precision medicine platforms, and data integration technologies. Investing in innovators helps pharma companies to get rid of many technological and ideological challenges and instead focus on value creation. In turn, such collaborations might allow blockchain and AI start-ups to expand their client base which will strengthen the ecosystem and increase innovation. The ultimate goal is to provide the best in healthcare for the individual, with blockchain and AI technologies increasing the speed in which precision medicine is implemented at a lower cost. However, it needs a commitment to the goal now.