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ARM Innovation Hub
13 December, 2006 - 14:49 By News Desk

TeraView fights drug counterfeiters

Pill pirates putting patients in danger by peddling counterfeit drugs are being tackled using Cambridge imaging technology.TeraView says its terahertz imaging and spectroscopy products could be used to help regulators and law enforcement agencies screen for potentially lethal fake medicines.

It believes its products and know-how could be employed to help routinely screen tablets in geographic centres where there is a suspicion of counterfeiting.

The ability of terahertz imaging to produce a ‘3D fingerprint’ of a tablet bought over the counter or via the Internet, and compare this to a database of such fingerprints from known manufacturers, has the potential to address public safety and assist in the detection of the counterfeiters.

The global market for counterfeit drugs is estimated at almost £22 billion and is expected to grow by 13 per cent a year over the foreseeable future – comparable to the growth of brand name products. this particularly pernicious healthcare fraud has traditionally hit the poorest nations hardest; but with the growth in illegal drug sales over the internet the scale of the problem is crossing boundaries and classes.

Latest estimates on the scale of the problem, jointly outlined by WHO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develop-ment (OECD), and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute show that more than 30 per cent of medicines in some areas of Latin America, South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are counterfeit.

In emerging economies, the proportion is estimated at 10 per cent but in many of the former Soviet republics it can be as high as 20 per cent.

In wealthy countries, with strong regulatory mechanisms, counterfeits account for less than 1 per cent of the market value, but 50 per cent of illegal internet sales are counterfeit.

TeraView has conducted several studies using terahertz imaging which demonstrate that the structure of tablet coatings and cores tends to vary between different manufacturers and that non-brand name manufacturers tend to have less sophisticated coating layers than those from the better-known companies.

In a joint US Food and Drug Administration and TeraView study, the initial results presented at at a recent International Foundation Process Analytical Chemistry conference on pharmaceutical manufacturing technologies in the US detected variations in the thickness of tablet coatings from products bought over the internet.

TeraView chief executive, Don Arnone said: ”This work indicates that there is a potential role for terahertz imaging in the fight against the counterfeiters who put patients at risk and undermine public confidence in medicines and the pharmaceutical supply chain.

“Every tablet has a fingerprint that is unique to the coating, the contents and potentially the manufacturer, which we can detect with our terahertz imaging technology. We can not only determine whether the drug content is as described, checking for active constituents for example, but also differentiate brand name drugs from those of other manufacturers.

“We can do this without needing to add bar codes to individual tablets or re-engineer tablet production, or destroy tablets during testing.”

• The TeraView announcement comes in the wake of comprehensive measures launched by the World Health Organization and more than 20 international partners forming IMPACT (the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce) to help national authorities safeguard their populations from the dangers of counterfeit medicines.

WHO and its IMPACT partners are creating principles for model legislation to help countries adapt their laws to the gravity of the crime

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