Swiss Professor creates a basic machine to detect fake drugs

pillsAssociate professor Serge Rudaz of Geneva University’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Switzerland may have helped to ease the worldwide problem of dangerous counterfeit drugs after developing an inexpensive machine that can identify diminished or fake medicines.

Keen readers of the Medical Specialists news area will already be aware of the huge risks associated with consuming a counterfeited drug and it is an issue we feel passionate about. Forbes estimated that the global sales of counterfeit drugs hit the $200 billion mark in late 2012, so clearly there is only one incentive for the criminals involved – to make money. This is regardless of the health of those who ingest the cheaply-produced drugs that can be comprised of a whole range of lethal ingredients such as paint, chalk, printer ink, brick dust and even arsenic.

Demonstrating how the problem has spread worldwide, in 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seized a batch of the prescription-only cancer medicine Avastin which turned out to be fakes and had been already been dispersed across America – despite its relatively protected domestic drug supply chain. It was discovered that the phony Avastin had been shipped to the U.S. from the United Kingdom.

According to the World Health Organization, around 10% of medicines circulating in the world are fakes, with even much higher figures for certain African countries  – areas where drugs such as antibiotics, analgesics, steroids, malaria pills, or antihistamines are in such high demand and sometimes needed to prevent death. In more developed nations it is usual for the most copied drugs to be patented ones such as Viagra.

Therefore Professor Rudaz has decided to fight the huge problem of counterfeit drugs and has manufactured a relatively cheap machine for labs to utilise to pick out the fakes. The machine merely costs $10,000 (£6,595.44) – around a tenth of what other commercial equipment costs. Because of this cost factor, Rudaz and his organisation offer the technology free-of-charge and have so far donated to labs in Senegal, Mali, Cambodia, and D.R. Congo, with machines set to go to Burkina Faso, Madagascar, and Rwanda in the near future.

The machine uses a method called capillary electrophoresis – a century-old technique never previously exercised in counterfeit drug detection. Technicians simply fill a thin tube with water and tiny measure of solvent, administer a high voltage and then diluted drug moves underneath the electric field. The validity is ascertained by how fast it travels.

Rudaz asked manufacturers if they wanted to assist in developing the design but they all replied they couldn’t envisage it having a market. He says: “Because the machine uses very little solvent, it is like a low-cost printer where the ink is also low cost. You have no business.”

Rudaz acknowledges that there is a huge battle to beat the counterfeiters with ‘drug mafias’ involved in the smuggling of drugs, and that it would be almost impossible to completely eradicate it. He says: “You won’t solve counterfeits completely. We detect some drugs, but the problem remains. The problem of counterfeits is not only a problem of analytics. It is also a problem of economics and society which is too big for me.”

You do not need to worry about dangerous fakes when dealing with Medical Specialists Pharmacy. Established in 1994 and becoming the UK’s first legal online clinic in 2001, we are fully registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and also a member of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA). Our team of Doctors are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and our Pharmacists are registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

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