Counterfeit drugs which put lives at risk and cost the pharmaceutical industry millions of pounds a year can now be detected at the speed of light.
Gilden Photonics have devised a revolutionary system which can enable spot checks to be carried out on suspected batches of drugs and identify fakes in seconds.
In the first three months of this year alone UK customs officials seized more than £78,000 worth of fake prescription drugs, almost twice as much as detected in the same period last year.
Prescription drugs used by millions of people every day in the UK are targeted by criminal gangs looking for quick and easy money. Drugs such as Lipitor, which helps to reduce cholesterol, Prozac for depression, Valium to treat anxiety and Viagra for impotence problems are among the most commonly counterfeited.
While gangs can expect to earn a 200 per cent return on an investment to make heroin they can recoup more than 2,000 per cent on fake prescription drugs with less risk of being caught.
There have been numerous deaths caused by fake medicines around the world, including 84 children in Nigeria who died after taking toxic teething medicine and 100 in Panama killed by fake cough syrup.
As the scale of the problem has escalated scientists working on pioneering spectroscopic technology have discovered how to distinguish the fakes from the real drugs without even opening a packet.
Glasgow based Gilden Photonics have devised portable devises which deploy a beam of light to detect counterfeits by comparing the spectral signature of the fakes with the real drugs.
Everything has a unique spectral 'fingerprint' which can be measured by examining the range of colours reflected by a beam of light directed on or through the object.
“The technology uses a laser and a spectrograph combined and is small enough to be taken out into the field.” said Kevin Lynch of Gilden Photonics.
“When the laser beam passes through we check the reflection from the drug in the spectral graph. As we have a database which shows what the real drug should look like we can tell whether the substance is the real deal or not in no time at all.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to at least ten per cent of medicines globally are counterfeit with as much as a third being fake in some developing countries.
Counterfeiters target the most lucrative markets, copying high value, high turnover and high demand medicines.
In the last three years there have been nine recalls of counterfeit medicines in the UK which had reached pharmacy and patient levels while a further five cases were discovered at wholesaler level before they reached the market.
Many counterfeit drugs are imported into the UK from manufacturers in India, China, Brazil and Russia and, until now, many of the fakes are very difficult to distinguish without time-consuming laboratory-testing.
“Hyperspectral imaging has been around for about 15 years but very few people know about its potential. The technology has until recently remained largely untapped,” said Mr Lynch of Gilden Photonics, the UK’s leading designer, manufacturer and supplier of cost effective and innovative optical spectroscopy solutions, components, turn-key instruments and OEM components.
“We have built a range of sensors which look at objects using a wide portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We have used this to build up a major database of known materials which can then be used to compare with samples.”
For more information visit www.gildenphotonics.com or call 0845 217 8757