Anti-counterfeiting solutions in pharmaceutical industry

Bimal Mehta from Vakils Premedia at PACK.Nxt

Bimal Mehta from Vakils Premedia. Photo PSA

Bimal Mehta from Vakils Premedia gave a presentation on anti-counterfeiting solutions in the pharmaceutical industry at the PACK.Nxt conference organized by Packaging South Asia, IPPStar and Threefold Business Solutions at The Lalit in Mumbai on 18 January 2024.

Vakils dates to 1946, when the parent company Vakil & Sons – a leader in the printing and publishing industry at that time – was founded. Now, Vakils Premedia operates in packaging artwork, regulatory services, digital media and premedia services. It is a partner to global pharmaceutical companies and works across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.

Mehta said counterfeit drugs are a big problem in the global pharmaceutical market and listed several factors behind the surge. These include blockbuster lifestyle medicines, high-value medicines to treat rare diseases, worldwide growth in the sales of orphan drugs, globalization of markets, a self-prescribing culture, and advanced technology to produce APIs.

The weak enforcement of regulations and penalties in many countries, and the rise of organized drug counterfeiting are other factors.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that Mehta quoted in his presentation, in 2000, 32% of identified counterfeit drugs contained no active ingredients, 20% had incorrect quantities of active ingredients, 21% had the wrong ingredients, 6% had correct composition with fake packaging, 9% contained high levels of impurities while 1% was copies of an original product.

Fraudulent drugs can severely impact patient health, including failure to treat critical illnesses, drug resistance and even death. Each year, between 100,000 and 1,000,000 people die due to the use of fake drugs, he said quoting varying statistics.

Mass encryption, holograms, security inks and coatings, security seals and RFIDs are some technologies that organizations use to combat counterfeiting. Blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms, NFC (near field communication) tags, augmented reality (AR) technology and encryption are some of the modern-day anti-counterfeit solutions, Mehta said.

Mehta shared a few examples of anti-counterfeiting solutions implemented by Vakils. The first example demonstrated measures in artwork design, which include bleed manipulation, coin reactive inks, discreet ink patterns, font alterations, security ink, UV varnish, line rule breaks, and controlled handicap print, among others.

Track & trace – a combination of records, systems and processes – can enable manufacturers to ensure their products are securely tracked right from the manufacturing plant to the pharmacy shelves.

Then there is SmartQR – a simple and low-cost solution, which can be applied in a variety of packaging and label types. The technology involves an app-less scan authentication via a smartphone, mitigating consumer friction. After product authentication, it gives access to a secure customer engagement platform providing product and brand content, he explained.

Chameleon’s patented SplatCode technology transforms a regular QR code into a cryographically paired unbreakable SmartQR, which cannot be reverse-engineered. The SmartQR provides informative content such as the product’s health and wellness properties; history, source and location of ingredients or production; dosage and safe usage information; patient prescription instructions; additional language options; on-pack digital labeling compliance and regulation; and complimentary or additional products available.

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