Medicines of natural origin are complicated. They usually contain multiple ingredients and their quality is affected by environmental, climatic and processing factors. All these make their monitoring challenging. Despite the adoption of modern horticulture, processing and analytical technologies, there is no effective way to monitor the growth, manufacturing, processing and distribution of these products comprehensively. These inadequacies make it difficult to hamper the occurrence of fraudulent, substandard, and counterfeit products in the market. Recently, a new information technology (IT), Blockchain, has emerged. This provides an advanced approach to address the above problems and helps restore consumer confidence in natural products, especially in Chinese medicine which is picking up momentum in the market since the onset of the Pandemic.
The objective of a blockchain is to provide a recording system where any dated (time stamped) statement entered into it cannot be altered (immutable ledger). It is highly encrypted (asymmetric cryptography) and lock-stepped (chained) with its previous and subsequently entries. Furthermore, the records are distributed to many independent site-servers (distributive, decentralized) so that any alteration must be performed in all the sites involved.
In a blockchain environment, erroneous statements can subsequently be amended in another time-stamped record. Thereupon, other nodes (blockchain participants) are able to judge if the original mistake was intentionally misleading or not. Consistent records generate trusts and certitude among customers and encourage transactions with the other nodes using the system’s binding contracts (smart contracts) to consummate the deals.
The “Superstructure” of CM Blockchain Platform
In general, there are 3 kinds of blockchains: (1) Open General Blockchain (operated by all nodes), (2) Permissioned Blockchain (operated by a management) and (3) Private Blockchain (operated by private entities). The non-profit CM Blockchain Platform initiated by Li Dak Sum Yip Yio Chin R&D Centre for Chinese Medicine, CUHK and MCMIA employs the “permissioned blockchain” system. MCMIA contributes industry contacts, operational information and the current international guidances to help set the admittance criteria and report requirements. CUHK provides scientific advisory and evaluations for the materials submitted to the Blockchain Platform and to organize and operate the Blockchain Platform itself, including the supervision of the “IT-infrastructure” that runs the <emBlockchain software.
Blockchain’s Scope of Operations
The CM blockchain operates solely as an information platform that compiles records which have been duly verified. The blockchain, with its auxiliary software, aims at facilitating interactions, collaboration and transactions among nodes. The CM blockchain management does NOT serve as an arbitrator and would not be involved in any dispute arising from the records submitted by the nodes. For any fraudulent or misrepresented record found, the management could request a new remedial record for rectification. If the situation remains unresolved, the management could remove the offending nodes from the platform temporarily or permanently. Meanwhile, these events are duly documented in the records for all to see.
CM Blockchain’s Organizational Structure
The CM blockchain operates as a non-profit NGO (non-government organization) under the supervision of a Board of Directors appointed by CUHK and MCMIA, and supported by an Advisory Board composed of technical, industrial and independent experts. A Management Team consists of 3 departments (Executive, IT and Publicity) operates the platform according to the guidelines, directives and SOPs issued by the Board of Directors.