Despite Slow DLT Adoption, A Pfizer Exec Says Industry Could Leverage Blockchain Technology Now


  • Ken Nessel: Blockchain tech is “basically good enough” to add other production blockchains.
  • Widespread adoption will likely be done through adoption in adjacent use cases, rather than a blanket impact.

The adoption of blockchain technology has been relatively slow. While there are many reports of individual companies trying the tech around the world, the fact that full industries have still not immersed themselves is concerning. At the Consensus conference this week, Ken Nessel believes that the tech already here is “basically good enough to have more production blockchains than we have today.”

Nessel, the senior director of business technology at Pfizer, spoke with Kate Gofman of AstraZeneca at the conference during an event called From Bench to Bedside: Blockchains and the Future of Clinical Researcher. Nessel was asked at the event for an honest outlook on the roadblocks that are keeping blockchain tech from its full potential in its industry.

Nessel explained that there is a “popular perception” that the technology itself is responsible for the lack of adoption, considering the still-limited scalability or even the speed. However, he noted that the rate-limiting factor has nothing to do with these issues, adding, “It’s not even at the top of my list.”

Instead, the biggest hurdle that blockchain is facing with adoption is that governance and infrastructure needs to be shared amongst competitors. Nessel noted that there are “some critical things” that these entities need to agree on, including, “who is a member of the network, what’s the commercial model behind the network, what legal form does it take and how you manage that network and that software over time.”

The cooperation involved in this type of sharing is colossal. In fact, it is so far-fetched to achieve that Nessel jokingly remarked that the individual or company that managed to achieve this negotiation would be worthy of establishing a consensus between Brexit and Nafta. More optimistically, Nessel pointed out that there is a lot of “hard work ahead.”

While this effort has not been made without progress, the necessary steps are being taken slowly. The recipe seems to be a combination of “motivations and incentives and the right people at the table,” if this adoption is to become a reality. Nessel blamed the slow adoption on how long it is taking to strike the right balance.

Adding to the difficulty is the changing demand of what blockchain technology could be used for. Rather than having a use case that is going to have a massive impact, Nessel sees use cases in a different light. He believes that progress in one use case creates a “ladder” to the adjacent potential use case. The impact grows over time, and Nessel sees this as the most likely way to reach widespread adoption.

Pfizer joined three other pharma companies this month in a collaborative project to create a blockchain network that would service the health industry. The ledger, which is being called MediLedger, will hopefully reduce dispute transactions, while improving data sharing capabilities.

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