The market for counterfeit drugs is growing: it is estimated that about 1% of all drugs in circulation in Western markets (and about 10% on average globally) are fake.
With the globalisation and complexity of supply chains, together with the growth of the internet and online pharmacies, black market pharmaceuticals are a big concern for the industry and health regulators as counterfeit drugs continue to grow.
The European Union and the US have introduced legislation that requires an electronic system to authenticate medicines as they are transported through the distribution network. However, some have argued that supply chain solutions will do little to prevent counterfeits and protect patients.
Counterfeit drugs kill one million people every year, and with anti-counterfeiting regulations widely neglected, damage for brands and consumers is growing.
Is there a solution?
Technology from outside the industry, such as the blockchain – technology more well known in the cryptocurrencies industry – could be adopted.
Researchers argue that although the technology is still new, blockchain (a digital, distributed transaction ledger of cryptographically secured time-stamped records) could be used to secure electronic health records, which already has IBM and the US Food and Drug Administration exploring the health data possibilities.
While the full benefits of blockchain in pharma will not be fully realised for some time, the technology’s potential should not be underestimated, says Dr Francisco Curbera, director of foundational technologies at IBM, adding that it is particularly well-suited as a supply chain solution.
In a bid to take advantage of the technology’s potential and address the issues with pharma’s supply chain, a number of outfits have begun to look at blockchain-based solutions.
A focus on the supply chain is where the vast majority of the industry will look to leverage the potential of blockchain in the first instance. Whether or not counterfeit drugs could become a thing of the past if blockchain transforms pharma’s supply chain is still up for debate.