Edible Smart Tags Could Beat Drug Counterfeiting

Published on 21 Oct, 2015

Counterfeit Drug - Technology Intelligence

The $200 billion counterfeit drugs market is a constantly shifting target. Pharmaceutical industry is expected to spend about $3.4 billion in 2015 on anti-counterfeiting technologies to intensify its battle. Edible smart tag technology is the industry’s newest weapon in combat against counterfeits, which promises to bridge potential gaps left by the prevalent RFID technologies.

Edible smart tags in the pharma industry are said to be partially inspired by their increasing presence in the food industry. NutriSmart is one of the leading provider that uses RFID-based sensors to track the food supply chain, improve the consumption experience, and simplify food purchases across supermarkets.

One of the early innovators exploring the use of edible smart tags in the pharmaceutical sector is Honolulu-based TruTag. The startup has developed edible micro-sized spectral barcodes etched on a porous silicon layer. Each microtag is assigned a unique identity code in the form a spectral pattern chosen from millions of combinations. Details pertaining to the unique identity are stored in a secured database, which also contains information such as the batch number, lot number, expiry date, date of manufacture, manufacturer information, or country of authorized sale.

These microtags, each gram of which contains 12 million unique tags, can be embedded into solid dosage forms by incorporating it in the form of powder during manufacturing process or mixed in the coating solutions. The barcode-embedded products can be then scanned with a portable spectrometer to authenticate all information relevant to the unique identity code.

Numerous strategies have been tested in the past to combat, drug counterfeiting including RFID tags, holograms, packaging barcodes, invisible ink, and magnetic threads. However, these strategies could be easily replicated by the counterfeiters, leading to invasion of the supply chains to get the counterfeited products into the market. Theoretically, the technology developed by Trutag could revolutionize supply chain management in pharmaceuticals due to minimal chances of the unique identity code being duplicated as the spectral pattern would change constantly.

Although conventional RFID-based tracking system may remain a key segment for the anti-counterfeiting technologies, a lot of potential would be realized this incumbent technology - edible smart tags as it does bridge the gaps of RFID. The successful incorporation of edible smart tags in supply chain management would not only help prevent brand value and revenue losses for drug companies, but also gain consumers’ trust and reduce health risks.