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Strong authentication & traceability measures can combat counterfeit medicines: Shalini Nair

Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
Thursday, March 3, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Anti-counterfeit action in the Indian pharma has a long way to go and the tools to make it happen have developed considerably in recent years. Adopting strong authentication and traceability measures are necessary to ensure that the supply chain itself is not corrupted, said Shalini Nair, CTO and co-founder, Ennoventure Technologies known for its advanced embedded patented anti-counterfeit technology.

Technologies like invisible cryptographic signatures, which cannot be copied, lower the risks of counterfeit. This along with geotagging can track the fakes and parallel imports. An integrated digital SAAS solution too is ideal to combat this issue, she added.

Fake medicines and medical devices can be dangerous and even life-threatening, as they may contain adulterants that trigger reactions in patients. When counterfeit medicines fail to treat a disease, patients will lack trust in the medicine and the pharmaceutical company. In the process, genuine manufacturers are often forced to bear the brunt of such fraudulence, she added.

Moreover, as India is the world’s third-largest producer of pharmaceuticals by volume, counterfeiting can damaging the country’s reputation. There is also the loss of foreign exchange and investment. This is particularly alarming given that the Indian government is looking to make the country self-reliant in drug production, she said.

Quoting the US FDA report, Nair said over 10% of all medicines worldwide are counterfeit. In both developed and developing countries, the healthcare sector struggles with fake pharmaceuticals that continue. As India ramps up its manufacturing as a global production hub, it needs to crack down on counterfeit activity in a concerted manner.

Problem of counterfeiting in pharma was exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic when counterfeiters took advantage of the general panic and overwhelming demand to sell sanitizers, masks, PPE kits, and medicines. Some counterfeiters even took false orders for oxygen cylinders without delivering them, or passed off fire extinguishers as oxygen cylinders. Others sold fake vials of the antiviral remdesivir for up to 40 times the market price. There were also cases of unscrupulous people washing and reselling used surgical gloves and PPE kits as brand-new, Nair noted.

All these are done by the counterfeiters using the latest printing and packaging equipment. They can create finished products that are indistinguishable from the original and can thus be slipped into the legitimate supply chain being caught. The healthcare industry is already overwhelmed by the pandemic, and did not have the bandwidth to invest in anti-counterfeit vigilance. As a result, counterfeiting in India went up by about 17% in 2020 over 2019, of which pharmaceuticals accounted for a significant chunk, she stated.

 

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