One analytical technique that has gained significant traction in the fight against counterfeits is Raman spectroscopy, which was originally created for use in condensed matter physics and chemistry where it was used to study vibration, rotational and other low‑frequency modes in a system. The biggest difference between Raman spectroscopy and RFID is that the former tests the actual drug and/or raw materials, which is important for markets where the product is sold without its original packaging. Raman spectroscopy also accurately identifies chemicals through sealed glass, plastic bottles, plastic bags and blister packs, which means that the operator does not come into direct contact with the substance. This avoids potential contamination and preserves the integrity of any evidence that can be used against counterfeiters.
In recent years, Raman spectroscopy has become available as a lightweight, handheld instrument that can identify even slight differences in drug formulations. This type of instrument can be deployed to authenticate the raw materials and/or finished products on the spot at points throughout the supply chain, including:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that counterfeit pharmaceutical levels range from less than 1% in the developed world to more than 30% in less developed regions. In less developed countries, there are gaps throughout the supply chain because standards are not as strict as they are in more developed regions. Open markets, where the unauthorised re-sale of medicines often takes place, are also very prevalent in these regions.
Bringing technologies to less developed countries should be a top priority, and these technologies should ideally be portable and easy to use with minimal training, which handheld Raman instruments may be able to offer.
Some countries already have an anti‑counterfeiting strategy in place. For instance, Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has launched a text messaging service called the Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) that allows anyone in Nigeria to check the authenticity of their medicines. More than 80% of the population in Africa have mobile phones, which makes systems such as these highly accessible to the general public.
In combination with its MAS system, Nigeria is also using our handheld Raman instruments to identify even the slightest difference in drug formulation. After just two weeks of deployments, the instruments had helped authorities seize more than 60 000 counterfeit drugs.3 The technology was also used to help NAFDAC intercept a consignment of counterfeit Lonart DS anti‑malarial tablets worth 10 million naira.3 Arrests were made in connection with the incident, which sends a clear message to counterfeiters that there will be consequences.
Nigeria’s aggressive anti‑counterfeiting campaign is now being emulated in other developing countries. For instance, Indonesia’s national agency for food and drug control (BPOM) is now using TruScan and others are also evaluating the technology.