Intercepting fraudulent drugs activities is neither a new nor a rare goal in the pharmaceuticals sector. Among the global trade of illegally copied goods and products, counterfeit drugs and pharmaceuticals continue to be one of the most lucrative sectors with sales ranging from $163 billion to $217 billion per year. According to WHO’s estimations, about 1 million people die every year due to counterfeit drugs consumption.
Further down the hill, almost one-third of the countries around the world lack drug regulatory agencies, resulting in an easy target for counterfeiters to penetrate.
While the less developed markets have always been easy prey, counterfeiters targeting the pharma industry are vamping up with digital means to target the secured drug distribution networks in the developed countries.
Despite their best efforts against drug counterfeiting along with billions of dollars poured into defensive measures, even the most secured markets in the world hold at least 1 percent of fake drugs among the total circulation in the market.
With the awareness in healthcare and pharmaceuticals against the increasing cases of falsified drugs, the counterfeit drug detection market is estimated to increase to a whopping $1.68 billion by 2027.
The use of emerging technologies in healthcare is molding the sector’s architecture for the better. Over the years, the sector has mended and evolved into advanced versions throughout its various segments using technologies including Artificial technologies, the Internet of things, Blockchain technology, AR/VR, Robotics, Nanotechnology, etc.
While counterfeit drugs have progressively invaded and infested pharmaceuticals despite the increasing awareness and invested dollars, a technology progressive and adaptive approach is now stimulating the market more than ever.
With many countries struggling to fight the covid-19 outbreak, healthcare and pharmaceuticals came to fall under critical eyes.
Healthcare providers and hospitals stood witness to a severe lack of resources and were unable to comprehend the next step, highlighting several gaps and threats in the system. Where pharmaceutical products and medicines suddenly saw an unprecedented hike in demand and in value, the increased demand led to extensive disruptions across supply chains and an impeccable growth in counterfeit drug activities.
The ultimate goal against counterfeit drugs is to deliver authentic products to the end-user and avoid the consumption of falsified drugs. Since drug detection is one of the key players in the process, based on technology trends, the counterfeit drug detection devices grew into experimenting with various technologies:
Currently, labeling and packaging solutions are being widely developed and adopted by leading organizations in the market to combat counterfeit drugs.
Mentioned below are some of the recent technology-based developments against counterfeit drugs.
With the spike in falsified drugs and pharmaceutical incidents, IT company Zydus Cadila recently introduced a new packaging feature. Zydus is known to help patients and institutions to deal with the menace of counterfeit drugs. And to further its cause, the India-based pharmaceutical company recently announced a new feature in the packaging of its critical drugs that will assist the patients to verify the products and eliminate fake or counterfeit ones.
Part of the new packaging incorporates an IT-enabled verification, Zydus Verify, where consumers can find a secret code under a scratchable surface that can be verified through their app or website. With an aim to employ complete genuinity of the product available to patients, Zydus collaborated with Hyperlink Infosystem to develop the feature.
Honeywell, a tech firm, recently announced that it will develop a digital authentication technology to fight against counterfeit pharmaceutical products in India. On a similar note to Zydus, Honeywell also plans to incorporate a digital code in the packaging of the product itself which can be verified by the consumer using a smartphone to scan the code.
However, taking matters up a notch in comparison to Zydus, Honeywell seems to have taken the uniqueness of the code and the possibility of duplication into significant consideration.
While the solutions mentioned above offer insightful and somewhat promising aid against drug detection at the user’s end, they are still lacking to address the access points for counterfeiters in the distribution network and the shortcomings that walk hand in hand with a centralized database.
Blockchain technology has already started to show roots of its benefits in the healthcare sector and others including finance, technology, agriculture, energy, etc. As the promising mention of a unique identity enters the digital world, the immutable, interoperable, secure, and public nature of a blockchain network offers solutions across the diverse segments of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, including supply chain traceability and counterfeit drug detection.
Recently, both Tech Mahindra and Infosys launched their blockchain solutions to bolster the ability to track and trace products in the supply chain network.
Approaching counterfeit drugs from the distribution network, Infosys has recently rolled out its blockchain pharma supply chain solution to offer end-to-end traceability across the supply chain to its clients. With multiple stakeholders in the network, the blockchain-based immutable system holds records of drugs and medical devices and has the ability to broadcast it across the sector.
With interoperability and interconnectivity being an imperial element of a robust supply chain, Infosys’ blockchain network prevents counterfeit products from entering the supply chain and enables targeted product recall.
Partnering with StaTwig, Tech Mahindra recently announced its plans to globally implement ‘VaccineLedger’, an open-source platform designed to perform end-to-end traceability for vaccines. While their partnership aims to build a global consortium of vaccine researchers, governments, pharmaceutical companies, distributors, etc. the solution is similar to Infosys with a few exceptions of being vaccine-focused and intentions of global implementation.
When it comes to VaccineLedger, it offers similar aids and benefits to that of Infosys including improved traceability, interoperability, interconnectivity, time-stamped products, etc. through immutable data records.
Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the sweetest fruits of the ever-evolving crypto space. Representing utmost uniqueness, NFTs are digital tokens with a unique code embedded cryptographically in them, making them non-fungible, i.e interchangeable.
Concreting product verification in the various channels of drug distribution networks using NFTs, medGrids recently rolled out its blockchain-based anti-counterfeit drugs solution.
MedGrids NFT-based solution for counterfeit drugs detection and supply chain tracking
Recently, at the launch of its Whitepaper, medGrids, a blockchain-based healthcare data and delivery ecosystem shed light on its blockchain-based solutions- medSheets, medSurf, MedSafe, medSure, and medCast that are intended to aid various segments of the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector. Among the solutions, medSure directly targets both supply chain management and drug counterfeiting using NFTs and blockchain technology.
“Anti-counterfeiting measures, brand protection and supply chain tracking as critical issues plaguing the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industry with ever-increasing revenue losses.”
Recently patenting their integrated concept and development of QR-based NFT tagged anti-counterfeit drug solution, medSure intends to offer real-time tracking of product movement down the supply chain. More importantly, medGrids has found a way to revolutionize the use of packaged and labeled-based solutions against fake drug supplies. Tagging NFTs with QR codes on the products intercepts counterfeiters at the most compromising points of the distribution network.
Blockchain technology has proved to be a groundbreaking development in the IT sector. And despite the noble intent against drug counterfeiting, centralized databases cannot compete with the nature of blockchain technology. There are way too many shortcomings of centralization that can be prevented by peer-to-peer networks using blockchain.
The development of blockchain-based projects in healthcare and pharmaceuticals is bound to make unprecedented leaps across the sector. It is a sign of good faith in the technology itself to see established organizations coming together to build blockchain-based solutions that inevitably empower the system as well as users against fraudulent activities.