According to the WHO and Interpol, over one million people die annually from counterfeit medicines. Such medicines have a serious impact on population health, including treatment failure, toxicity, and contribution to antimicrobial resistance. It is important to consider the evidence surrounding their increasingly pervasive nature to understand the importance of effective actions to address them:
– Medicine counterfeiting is worth €200 billion annually: medicine counterfeiting is now one of the most lucrative counterfeiting business segments in the world, with very light legal consequences. A $1000 investment yields upward of $400,000.
– Medicines for life-threatening conditions account for 60% of counterfeit medicines: only 10 years ago, most of the counterfeit medicines were for lifestyle conditions such as weight loss. However, medicines to treat serious life-threatening conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria now account for 60% of all counterfeits .
– The highest number of reported counterfeit medicines come from developing countries: about 70% of counterfeit medicines originate from India and China. However, other regional counterfeiting operations are increasing their share. These include operations based in Europe, Africa, Frontier South East Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos – mostly selling into Malaysia and Indonesia) and South America (especially Colombia and Mexico – mostly selling into USA and Canada).
– Price is a factor driving demand for counterfeit medicines: in most markets, consumers who cannot afford medicines on the conventional health market seek prescriptions from the parallel health system. Such prescriptions come from open drug markets in the case of Africa and South East Asia. Up to 70% of prescriptions sourced through these channels are estimated to be counterfeit.
To solve this problem and provide a means to rapidly determine the quality of a medicine, RxAll© has built a proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) platform called RxScanner™, which uses a handheld nanoscanner to enable rapid drug quality checking by drug regulators and pharmacies across the world. The RxAll© RxScanner™ checks the chemical quality of a drug versus a pure reference compound using a proprietary AI model and databases. The platform has CE, FC and ISO marks of quality. Through the RxScanner™ platform, drug regulators and pharmacies can quickly determine the quality of a drug in under 30 seconds using a mobile phone. Drugs that fail the screening test are sent to a centralised lab for confirmatory test.
Currently RxScanner™ is in use in Myanmar and is about to be deployed by a major regulator in West Africa. Since it is 20 times cheaper than existing handheld spectrometers, RxScanner™ is well suited for deployment across resource-poor countries. Drug regulators and pharmacies globally may use RxScanner™ for rapid quality assurance of medicines imported and purchased before they are distributed and dispensed. This will make importers and suppliers accountable, since they would no longer be able to supply substandard drugs as regulators and pharmacies now have the tool to determine a drug’s quality.
Effective large-scale approaches are required to tackle the growing global problem of counterfeit medicines. Importantly, this includes accurate and scalable tools that facilitate the rapid detection of such medicines to promote accountability and enable global monitoring – especially in low-resource settings. As a low-cost tool that enables this detection, RxScanner™ aims to make an important contribution to making medicines safe globally.
 Cartwright, R and Baric, A. Policy Brief: The rise of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa. ENACT, 2018. Available at https://enact-africa.s3.amazonaws.com/site/uploads/2018-11-12-counterfeit-medicines-policy-brief.pdf.