Hyderabad: In an effort to combat the problem of fake drugs in the Rs33,000 crore Indian domestic pharmaceutical market, multi-national firms such as Roche Scientific Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd are aggressively adopting latest technology to secure their supply chain and to prevent counterfeiters from eating into their profits.
“Since end of July, we started implementing a tracking system using which the authenticity of our products can be verified directly by the end-user,” said Arun Manjeswar, who is in charge of logistics and quality assurance at the Indian unit of Switzerland-based F Hoffmann La-Roche Ltd.
Roche is implementing mass serialization, one of the latest in anti-counterfeiting technologies that is less expensive than existing technologies based on radio frequency identification (RFID) and less likely to be tampered than the currently popular technologies such as machine readable bar codes or holograms.
This involves texting on mobile phones, also referred to as SMS or short messaging service.
“Patients buying our products can SMS the 16-digit alpha-numeric code printed on the pack to a designated number and the company will confirm or deny the authenticity of the purchased product instantly,” Manjeswar said.
The number can be verified only once, thus eliminating the possibility of duplicating the number by counterfeiters.
One of the advantages of mass serialization is that the end user does not need to own expensive gadgets for reading and verifying machine readable codes using RFID technology.
Roche, which has implemented the solution for its expensive oncology drugs, has plans to implement it for its entire product range sold in India.
Roche has outsourced this anti-counterfeiting work to Norway-based firm Kezzler AS.
“Such direct and simple verification methods have a direct impact on patients’ impression of the brand and trust in the authenticity of the product.” Manjeswar added.
GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Ltd confirmed it, too, has implemented anti-counterfeiting technologies, but declined to give details.
“It is a question of brand protection for bigger companies. Spurious drugs can seriously damage brand name and reputation of well-established big brands, and can have serious business implications,” said Ajit Mahadevan, partner and head of life sciences advisory at audit and consultancy firm Ernst and Young.
Although brand protection is a $450 million (Rs2,218 crore) global industry, Indian pharma companies are yet to perceive brand protection as a strategic business requirement.
The very few pharma companies that have any kind of anti-counterfeiting efforts in place still depend on easily duplicable forms of protection such as bar codes or holograms.
A spokesperson for Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, among India’s top five drug makers, said it depended on “specific elements in our packaging design” to distinguish an original from a counterfeit drug.
“We also have long-term relationships with packaging suppliers that helps us retain strong controls on supply and inventory,” said the spokesperson.
Solutions such as barcodes and holograms require “additional equipment at the retailer end or stockist end to verify the authenticity. This may not always be affordable by all retailers or stockists,” said D.G. Shah, secretary general of Industry body Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.