team of researchers recently received a grant to help them develop
anti-counterfeiting technology to combat the growing problem of phony
The Wellcome Trust, a global charity, granted the researchers from King’s
College in London £473,000 to help them create a system that can identify
counterfeit drugs and substandard medications.
The team will be lead by Dr Kaspar Althoefer, from King’s Division of
Engineering. In addition, the researchers will be joined by scientists from
Lund University in Sweden.
Specifically, the research will focus on building an inexpensive and durable
device that can detect fake and low-quality medications in developing
countries, where the problem of counterfeit drugs is most prevalent.
The researchers say they are aware of the serious nature of the problem they
are attempting to fix.
“There is a growing awareness that counterfeit and substandard drugs
constitute a fast-growing threat to public health the whole world over,”
Althoefer said. “To take just one example: the use of substandard drugs-drugs
that contain an incorrect amount of active ingredient due to poor
manufacturing controls or losses due to aging – can lead to fatalities and
also the emergence of drug-resistant forms of infectious agents, which has disastrous
consequences for medical treatment programs.”
According to Althoefer, the team will work to develop an anti-counterfeiting
technology that involves quadrupole resonance spectroscopy (QR), which is a
process that uses radio waves to determine the chemical structure of solid
“QR can detect signals through multiple layers of, for example, cardboard,
glass, plastic and/or wood, eliminating the need to remove drugs from their
packaging prior to the analysis,” said the lead researcher.
The QR technique doesn’t harm the medication in any way so the drug can be
used after it is inspected. QR appears to be an effective tool in
anti-counterfeiting technology, as it is especially useful in the analysis of
nitrogen, chlorine or bromine, sodium and potassium compounds, according to
the King’s College news release. Such substances are present in more than 80
percent of drugs.
Specifically, QR can be used to detect counterfeit drugs because its signals
vary in recorded ways based on the sort of chemical bonds between atoms in
the examined material. This cabability allows the technology to identify
drugs that do not meet set standards.
Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, said he
understands the terrible impact that phony drugs can have.
“There is nothing more invidious than putting lives at risk through the
counterfeiting of medicines,” he said. “We need the tools to detect the
fakes, trace the perpetrators and galvanise the industry to show zero
tolerance to this evil practice.”