German Merck tracking drugs in Africa with texts

In the U.S., it's fake Avastin that draws attention, but the experts say it is counterfeit drugs in developing countries that kill the most people. 

The WHO estimates 700,000 people in Africa alone die each year as a result of taking fake anti-malaria and tuberculosis drugs. And drug counterfeiting kills profits while killing people; it is costing the drug manufacturing industry approximately $75 billion a year.

But a startup company has taken aim at drug counterfeiting in developing countries with a technology that relies on cell phones and what it refers to on its website as "crowd-sourced pharmacovigilance" as the final link in the supply chain, reports eWeek.Mobile. It's technology is not unlike a system that India is considering requiring all drug manufacturers there to fight fake drugs.

Companies using the Sproxil authentication system package their products with a scratch-off label that has a unique code. Consumers can send a free text with the code to Sproxil. Seconds later, the system responds with another free text telling them if the product is genuine. According to eWeek.Mobile, companies including Merck KGaA and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are using the system.

The story quotes Chokri Ahmadi of Merck Group's West Africa Region, who said in a statement that the the technology is intended to make "it easier for us to successfully prevent consumers from being subjected to counterfeit medications."

Sproxil also recently teamed with IBM to offer drug manufacturers using Sproxil's technology cloud-based access to big data that can help them visualize counterfeiting patterns, reports e.Week.Mobile.

In India, where questions have come up over whether regulators there can protect patients from fake drugs made domestically, a task force has suggested adoption of a track-and-trace system that relies on the same kind of technology. In the U.S. the pharmaceutical industry has been citing (and fighting) as too pricey a much more sophisticated system being pushed by the FDA.

- here's the eWeek.Mobile story

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