Although counterfeit drugs make up less than 1% of the U.S. pharmaceutical market, about 30% of medicines in developing countries are fake or toxic, resulting in more than 700,000 fatalities each year.
“The current way of combating counterfeit drugs is to serialize the unit of sale by giving it a unique identification number in barcode form,” says Bob Macadangdang, Client Development Manager at Sharp Services. “Counterfeiters cannot replicate these barcodes, and is therefore very effective. The information is verified between the drug provider and the purchasers, and is only known between these two parties, so it is very secure. Serialization also helps with inventory and management of drug supplies.”
In the hopes of combating counterfeit drugs, University of Michigan researchers have developed a new kind of medicine bottlethat have secret images hidden on their plastic labels, and will appear when they’re breathed on.
“The concept started when I noticed that traditional holography-based security tags are widely used on counterfeit bags and shoes,” said professor of engineering Nicholas Kotov, who worked on the project. “These tags can be very easily printed, and a new technology was clearly needed to label authentic items.”
Creating the images requires sophisticated technology that can create minuscule features approximately 500 times smaller than the width of a single human hair. It sounds expensive, but once the template is made, it can be printed on to huge rolls at a cost of just about one dollar per square inch.
The labels have an array of tiny pillars on the top of a surface that hide the images on the material beneath. The pillars then trap the moisture of a person’s breath, which reveal the secret pictures.
“This anti-counterfeit technology is simple to use but difficult to replicate,” explains Kotov. “The buyers of authentic items can identify authenticity on site and immediately. The images can also be integrated in the design of the shoes or other items.”
Funding for the research was provided by DARPA’s Small Business Technology Transfer program and by the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program. The University of Michigan hopes that they can patent the futuristic medicine bottles and then make them available to the pharmaceutical market.
“Besides the economic losses associated with counterfeit drugs, people can die due to their use,” Kotov said. “Overall, it’s an important advancement for the industry and cutting down on the spread of counterfeit drugs.”