New IT targets drug counterfeiting in developing countries

By Mike Miliard
11:00 AM

Sproxil, a startup that develops tools for brand protection in emerging markets, has enlisted IBM technology to help reduce drug counterfeiting and help consumers to verify the authenticity of prescriptions with their smartphones.

Through its collaboration with IBM, Sproxil officials say the company is extending manufacturers' ability to view and analyze real time consumer data to detect and prevent drug counterfeiting in developing countries – where 25 to 50 percent of medicines are believed to be counterfeit, costing the pharmaceutical industry as much as $75 billion a year.

[See also: mHealth apps help with medication adherence.]

Sproxil clients such as Merck and GlaxoSmithKline have been able to combat counterfeiting by using the company's Mobile Product Authentication (MPA) solution to affix a scratch-off label with a unique code to each package of medication, officials say. Upon purchase, consumers scratch the label to reveal the code, which they then send via a free text message to a telephone number provided on the package. Within seconds, consumers receive a return text message from Sproxil letting them know whether the medication is genuine.

This process leads to a large and fast-flowing stream of information regarding sales and suspected incidences of counterfeiting that pharmaceutical manufacturers have access to through Sproxil's client portal.

Sproxil tapped IBM's ILOG Elixir software, which provides rich visuals such as advanced charts and graphics, to help its clients to view and analyze this market data. With these capabilities, drug manufacturers worldwide will be able to better manage and analyze petabytes of transaction data in real time, helping them identify patterns in counterfeiting and deploy their resources accordingly, officials say. Sproxil's new portal featuring ILOG will be launched during the second quarter of 2012.

[See also: Swedish pilot project aims to curb counterfeit medicines.]

"Many of our clients are in locations where high-speed Internet connectivity is unreliable or nonexistent," said Sproxil CEO Ashifi Gogo. "Through our work with IBM, we can enable our clients to render charts with high-speed, even in low-bandwidth situations. Through IBM's cloud service, we are also able offer clients secure and reliable application availability no matter where they are located."

Counterfeit medicines have become a critical issue for developing nations, with an impact measured in lives. For example, of the one million malaria deaths that occur worldwide each year, 200,000 are reportedly the result of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs. Additionally, the WHO indicates that 700,000 Africans die annually from consuming fake anti-malarial or tuberculosis drugs.

[See also: MIT ventures explore cell phone use in developing countries.]

"Sproxil continues to advance its MPA solution to make it easier for us to successfully prevent consumers from being subjected to counterfeit medications," said Chokri Ahmadi, business director, Merck Group, West Africa Region. "The new dashboard will allow us to make better use of the data we receive through the client portal, which in turn should help our business and our customers."

Using IBM SmartCloud, Sproxil is benefiting from the cost savings and scalability associated with a cloud environment while preserving the ability to take advantage of the security, existing applications, reliability, management and support services more typical of a private cloud.

"Sproxil and IBM share a commitment to using technology to protect the health and safety of people around the world," said Paul Chang, supply chain solutions leader, IBM. "With the help of IBM, Sproxil and its clients are making prescription drugs safer for millions of people who live in areas where counterfeiting is rampant."

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