Verifying Medicine is the Real Thing: Edible On-dose Microtags Offer a Solution to a Global Problem
Previously published on Jan 26, 2011
The pharmaceutical industry is an essential segment of the global economy that is constantly changing with the advancement of technology. Considering the push to provide low cost drugs to those in underdeveloped regions across the globe and implement significant cost cutting measures, which include outsourcing production to areas where quality assurance can be a major issue, verifying the quality of drugs from the source to the consumer has increasingly become a top priority of drug producers. Unfortunately, somewhere around ten percent of the nearly one trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry may well come from counterfeit drugs. Due to this very costly and dangerous reality, the pharmaceutical industry must find novel solutions to address this very serious issue.
One fairly successful solution has been to tag the packaging of pharmaceuticals, so they can be tracked in transition from the production line to the dispensary. Certainly, this technology has helped prevent smugglers from diverting shipments in regions where corruption is a major problem, but counterfeit medicines can still make it into the pipeline, especially for consumers seeking out discounts on the internet. Ultimately, the most effective solution likely requires well-controlled productions facilities that imprint tags for each dose of medicine which cannot be replicated, yet can be easily read by consumers. Although this may sound like a tall order, the latter condition with the right technology could be met fairly easily in the near future.
Trutag technologies is one company pursuing what the industry calls "on-dose" authentication. Albeit a fairly unappetizing thought, the use of silicone dioxide in food to control moisture has long been a common, safe practice for many, many years. By producing microtags out of silicon dioxide with a unique spectral light signature, the pharmaceutical industry may well be able to soon verify the authenticity of individual doses at any given point in the distribution process. While the edible tags cannot be readily duplicated, they can be read with the use of simple, low-cost spectrometer based optical readers from within their own transparent packaging. Consequently, the technology might be implemented with little disruption to production lines or significant retraining of dispensers.
The microtags work via little pores on the nanometer scale that can be varied in dimension to change their overall spectral signature, i.e. small alternations result in totally new patterns of light. To date, Trutag has controlled the process well enough to allow for up to one trillion unique patterns to be produced, so a great deal of information, which might include product specifications, lot number, origin, expiration date, and authorized seller/consumer, can be implanted on each and every pill. As the company verifies the durability and longevity of their product through a test case involving a major US nutraceutical firm, they are hopeful their product can be implemented very quickly with little strife.
It is technology like these edible microtags that can address a myriad of small, yet fatal issues faced by the pharmaceutical industry in a very eloquent fashion. Trying to stay ahead of the technology curve can be difficult, but research fields, such as optics, do offer opportunities to industries looking for more reliable, durable solutions, especially when considering what those looking to breech security measures would need to commit their misdeeds. Complexity is a counterfeiter's worst nightmare; however, the same is also true of those trying to safeguard the world, unless implementation and use are not inhibited by the complexity of design. The Trutag solution is an example of technology that can be utilized very easily, but not duplicated by the common criminal while it aids in a very serious real world issue.