How to Successfully Use Anti-Counterfeiting Technologies to Reduce Costs and Increase Your Business Value

Pharma IQ

"Fraudulent medicines offer organised criminal groups a high return commodity with relatively low risks, ultimately at the expense of the health of unsuspecting people," Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, claimed recently.

In Asia and Africa alone the market for fake medicines is worth $1.6 billion (£0.9 billion), while in 2008 the European's Customs Unit disrupted over 3,200 attempts to bring counterfeit medications into the continent.

The extent of the problem is such that genuine pharmaceutical companies are seeing their reputations damaged through illegal versions of their branded products, and many are now taking action.

SMS verification

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is among the pharmaceutical companies looking to harness the increasing use of mobile technology in Africa to help combat distribution of counterfeit medications.

In partnership with the Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC), GSK is offering a service through which users of itsAmpiclox anti-biotic is genuine via SMS.

Users simply have to send a text message with the 12-digit pin from the blister pack, and then will instantly receive a response informing if it is a counterfeit.

"A simple message: 'OK. Original Ampiclox cap 500mg NRN: 04-2401' confirms the product as genuine," Lekan Asuni, managing director of GSK, said.

"We believe that this project being implemented in partnership with NAFDAC will enhance the trust that people already have the GSK products," he added.

However, introducing this new technology is not the only way in which GSK is looking to combat counterfeits in Africa, while boosting its business value.

John Musunga, GSK East Africa managing director, recently announced the company was cutting the price of its key drugs by 50 percent in Kenya to boost access, also admitting that the high prices charged for drugs on the continent were part of the reason for the high proliferation of counterfeits in the region.

"Reducing prices of antibiotics, asthma medicines and dewormers will enable poor households to afford quality medication within their meagre budgets," he said, which also makes them less likely to turn to cheaper counterfeits.

Tracking and authentication

Efforts to combat counterfeiting have also been taking place in the UK, with consortium SecureTrace announcing last year it had completed a successful pilot of a programme to track pharmaceuticals throughout the supply chain.

The products were initially stamped with 2D barcodes featuring authentication markers, before a natural fingerprint is created using Laser Surface Authentication.

Data from the packaging was then combined with the cartons and packaging, before RFID and barcodes were applied to cartons and all the information was stored within a database.

Throughout transit, field readers were used to track the product at different stages of the supply chain.

SecureTrace claimed the system complied with the objectives of the European Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) in its efforts to combat counterfeits, but also considered how to include authentication technologies which didn't affect the design of the packaging and how this technology can be practically integrated within the production line.

Jim Rittenburg, VP of Healthcare at Authentix and lead partner for SecureTrace, said: "European countries have taken a fragmented approach to tracking drugs while the United States has struggled to establish a workable pedigree system.

"SecureTrace establishes a clear and workable strategy that has been developed and executed by all players involved in the process."

Mark McGlade, Board Member of the International Authentication Association, added that it was essential pharmaceutical companies understood the "powerful combination of authentication and serialisation", adding such new technology could create further business opportunities for the UK pharma industry.

The secure trace pilot is not the only one to have looked at barcode verification to combat counterfeiting. EFPIA previously worked with stakeholders in Sweden to better understand how such a system would work, hailing it as a success but indicating there were some issues to be worked out.

It's clear different strategies will be needed to combat counterfeits in different markets, depending on the scale and nature of the problem, and the infrastructure and resources available. But it is also clear there is business value to be added through successful anti-counterfeiting measures.