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Counterfeit Proofing against Brand and Product Piracy
When patients purchase counterfeit drugs that contain too little or incorrect active agents they often run a risk. After all, not only lifestyle medications such as slimming pills or the potency pill Viagra are affected but also cancer and HIV medications. Many forged drugs are sold online – more than half the drugs distributed online are counterfeits, say the World Health Organisation WHO. “Especially in countries such as Germany where the online sale and shipping of drugs are legal and popular this is a lucrative business,” says Harald G. Schweim, Professor for “Drug Regulatory Affairs” at the University of Bonn.
In response to this, drug producers, pharmaceutical wholesalers and pharmacists last year founded the safety system securPharm. In a pilot trial producers are now equipping the packaging of selected non-OTC drugs with a DataMatrix code as regularly found on train tickets. Each packaging unit bears a serial number thereby making it a one-off. Pharmacists scan this code and match it with a database before handing over the drug to their customers. “This means drugs are recorded twice: firstly when entering and secondly when exiting the distribution chain,” explains securPharm CEO Reinhard Hoferichter adding that end-to-end control like this scares off counterfeiters.
Natural drug producer Bionorica has already realised its own quality symbol. Each box comes with a 3D, optically variable embossing on the back. When looking at it the Bionorica logo appears in the circle and can also be felt. When the box is tilted the symbol turns into four Erlenmeyer flasks. This safety feature was developed by Giesecke & Devrient who also produce the EURO banknotes.
However, safety solutions are not only in demand for drugs. Global technical inspection service provider TÜV Rheinland already relies on a randomly generated confirmation code for various products. Using the authentication and control system (PACS) packaging units can be identified and traced from the factory hall via transport and distribution channels all the way down to the customer. The non-decryptable alphanumerical algorithm is individually placed by printing or embossing. This also allows end users to check by text message or by scanning the QR code whether the goods are authentic.
These visible elements can be combined with invisible ones in holograms such as micro- and even nano-text only readable when magnified 50 fold. Schreiner ProSecure focuses entirely on nano technologies, i.e. structures with a size of a million of the millimetre. These include interference lithography where the desired text is included in the hologram and can only be read under a magnifying glass or microscope. They also apply wafer-thin, iridescent surfaces. The light is refracted there as it is on the wings of some butterflies and then reflected back split up into spectral colours thereby generating tiltable colour effects.
Another nano-technology based safety feature are luminescent nano particles. Here the printing ink or varnish is mixed with colour pigments that only emit light and therefore become visible when checked with a UV or IR-light device. Such hidden safety features are particularly suitable for packaging that needs to comply with design specifications or any change would entail re-approval. “Highest reliability and easy handling are no longer a contradiction in terms,” says ProSecure Marketing Manager Thomas Völcker.
At companies such as Colordruck Beiersbronn the “arsenal” of safety features ranges from UV safety ink and fluorescent safety inks to so-called Hidden Images – where pixels are manipulated in such a way that the information cannot be identified with the naked eye but only using an optical decrypting device – not forgetting thermochromic pigments. With these colour pigments surfaces appear colourless when a specific temperature is reached – very helpful particularly for temperature-sensitive products.
Efforts not only centre on the development of ever new technologies but also on a more broad-based use of known safety features. The FIR department at RWTH Aachen university is currently researching into the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) on consumer goods packaging. While RFID chips are already used for pallets they are now soon to be used along the entire value chain thereby covering every individual packaging unit.
- Authentication and Control System of TÜV Rheinland
- Bionorica symbol
- Stielow hologram labels
- Kempten: Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften
- Practical examples for Schreiner ProSecure