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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Seeing is Believing

Nicole Golomb at Secutag examines RFID as a security measure, finding that recent advances in optically variable counterfeit-resistant technologies are gaining more precedence in the pharmaceutical industry

Recent cases in the UK where counterfeit drugs appeared in the legitimate pharmacy supply chain have made one thing very clear: even the European medicine market is no longer safe and secure. Drug trade via the internet, and parallel imports in particular, involve unknown risks. Counterfeit medicines can harm people’s health and endanger their lives. The US Government has therefore subsidised radio frequency identification (RFID) as a promising technology in the fight against fake drugs. Initially, RFID seemed to be the silver bullet for ending drug counterfeiting. However, people have become increasingly disillusioned with the reality of this technology, and the trend is once again for physical security measures.

Micro colour-code systems, for instance, are designed to help protect against the growing problem of counterfeiting. Since May 2007, three cases of counterfeit drugs have been discovered in Britain: fake versions of the antipsychotic olanzapine, forged bicalutamide, (used to treat prostate cancer) and the blood-thinner clopidogrel all appeared in the legitimate supply chain. All counterfeit pharmaceutical products had too little active drug content which can lead to unforeseen side effects and considerably harm people’s health.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) therefore immediately started a nationwide recall. The manufacturer provided detailed information about the drugs, which helped the MHRA to find out exactly when the pharmaceuticals were delivered and to identify them from the lot numbers. There is hope that all fake drugs will be found in order to prevent further harm: “We take this very seriously and a criminal investigation is being carried out,” said a MHRA spokesperson. Meanwhile, one person was arrested.

For many years, the European medicine market was considered completely safe. The phrase ‘drug piracy’ referred primarily to the uncontrolled markets in the developing countries, or the emerging markets in Asia and Africa, where selling crude mixtures of backing powder and chalk, with copied, low-dose or ineffective ingredients has become a common problem. Until now, the issue of counterfeit drugs has played a minor role in Europe. However, the latest EU statistics show that the number of incidences of fake medicines is rising. In 2006, European customs seized 2.5 million counterfeit pharmaceutical products.


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Nicole Golomb is Marketing and Sales Manager for anti-counterfeit systems at 3S Simons Security Systems GmbH, Germany. Nicole is in charge of the management of the specific customer projects dealing with individual applications of the micro colour-code system SECUTAG® on branded articles. Furthermore, she is responsible for the analysis of processing technologies in specific industries and the product protection system’s integration in the different branches.
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