Practical Steps to Stem the Flow of Counterfeit Medicines

In this interview Kerstin Schrade-Butscher, Intelligence Analyst, Global Security EMEA, Pfizer, shares her insights on counterfeit pharmaceuticals with Pharma IQ, ahead of the 2nd congress Global Pharma Authentication 2011 . 

Why do you think counterfeit medicines are increasingly being detected in legitimate supply chains?

As patients and healthcare providers become more aware of the presence of counterfeit medicines, even in legitimate supply chains, and the threat that counterfeits pose to patient health and safety, I believe they have become more vigilant in detecting and reporting differences in the appearance, taste and effectiveness of their medicines. I believe that any increase in detection of counterfeits is the result of successful efforts to raise awareness to the nature and scope of the counterfeiting problem.

What new technologies are being used to address the problem?

At Pfizer, we incorporate anti-counterfeiting features into the packaging for our medicines to make them more difficult for counterfeiters to copy, and easier for healthcare providers and patients to distinguish between authentic and counterfeit Pfizer products. These features range from the covert, such as colour-shifting ink that the patient can detect, to those that are forensic and can only be authenticated in our labs.

Because of advances in technology, it is important to reassess those features regularly and be prepared to change them quickly if they are compromised. To ensure that we are ready to meet those challenges, we have a dedicated team of professionals who assess new and existing technologies to help ensure the integrity and safety of our medicines.

How important is it to ensure the issues are addressed globally?

Counterfeit medicines are a global threat from which no region or country is immune. The networks that manufacture and distribute counterfeit medicines are global in scope, often paralleling the multinational structure of the major pharmaceutical companies.

To be effective, investigations and enforcement must match the scope of the enterprises they seek to identify and dismantle. To succeed, there must be collaboration and an exchange of information not only between “local” enforcement agencies, but also between the public and private sectors.

What impact do you think counterfeit medicines will have on business in the future?

While there are undoubtedly “costs” associated with counterfeit medicines, the impact with which we are most concerned is the threat to patient health and safety that they pose.

Collaboration amongst the different stakeholders, industry, customs and supply chain is key, how can they work better together to combat the counterfeiters?

We must recognize that we are fighting a common enemy – those who put their profit above the safety of the patients to whom counterfeit medicines are dispensed. We must work together, sharing information and best practices, and seeking to remove barriers that prevent the free flow of information between the public and private sectors.

What practical steps can industry take to address the problem of counterfeit products?

To successfully stem the flow of counterfeit medicines, you must attack both supply and demand.

On the supply side, pharma companies should actively monitor their supply chains, including the pharmacies that dispense their medicines, to detect the presence of counterfeits. Concerns about the presence of counterfeit medicines should be pro-actively and thoroughly investigated, and the results referred to enforcement authorities for their action.

On the demand side, we must continue efforts to educate patients by raising awareness to the threat that counterfeit medicines pose to their health and safety.

Interview conducted by Andrea Charles