Leading the battle against counterfeit drugs

PharmaTrack, Unisys’s newest innovation, combines leading security, advanced data analytics and compliance technology to help combat theft and counterfeit drugs

Pharmaceuticals have long being used to improve health and extent our lives. However, the practice of drug delivery changed dramatically in the past decades but getting drugs safely and efficiently from the manufacturer to the patient has been a long-standing issue for pharmaceutical companies.
Stolen, counterfeit and FDA regulated products such as prescription or over the counter medicines, medical devices and so on put us consumers at risk in the most drastic way possible. They may be caused by products not being stored or handled properly or may have been tempered with while out of the normal supply chain, making then either unsafe or ineffective. The worst part is that these products can also re-enter the supply as a result of illegal handling by individuals or by distributors.
The supply chain is an integral component of the entire pharma industry and the industry has long struggled with finding better ways to get drugs from the manufacturer to the patient more quickly, efficiently and with less cost.
However, the most important issue is the scourge of counterfeiting in compromising patient safety. It is estimated that up to 15 per cent of the drugs in the supply chain at any given time are counterfeit. Making sure people are taking the drugs they have been prescribed is an important moral issue, as well as a business issue. Counterfeiting also places significant cost burden on pharma companies themselves which impacts the price that we as consumers have to pay.
Mediworld ME recently discussed in detail with Mark Sabotti, Director of Healthcare & Life Sciences, Unisys Asia Pacific, Unisys’s new innovation called PharmaTrack.
Enhanced visibility
PharmaTrack, Unisys’s newest innovation combines leading security, advanced data analytics and compliance technology in a single, unified platform to provide life sciences and healthcare companies enhanced visibility and oversight of the entire global pharmaceutical supply chain and thus help combat theft and counterfeit drugs.
“PharmaTrack is a first-of-its kind solution. Up until now, there hasn’t been an all-in-one solution which gives the industry, both Pharma and Logistics, the ability to tag, trace, track and authenticate drugs all the way through from the factory to the end-user. PharmaTrack is Unisys’ response to mitigating counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical industry by improving the entire process and logistics of the supply chain such that drugs can be transported more efficiently, more cheaply and with greater safety,” Sabotti explained.
Open source technology
This newest addition to the Unisys ActiveInsights™ suite of solutions arose from an overlap of industry needs between two industries in which Unisys has deep domain expertise: life sciences and healthcare, and travel and transportation.
“We are leveraging proprietary Unisys technology as well as existing open source technology such as the Blockchain Hyperledger, to identify where breaks in the chain-of-custody in the supply of drugs may have occurred and to provide data and analytics around the best way to get drugs to market quickly. Unisys works extensively with Law Enforcement, with Border and Customs Agencies and with Transport and Logistics firms to deliver a host of Unisys proprietary solutions. We have leveraged our Intellectual Property in delivering these solutions to help pharma companies.
“We are never going to stop theft completely, but PharmaTrack helps pharma companies identify theft quickly and act to mitigate theft through changed shipping routes and reducing risk in highlighting areas of concern. It enables them to make decisions by providing information they have not previously had,” noted the director.
Advance data analytics
The technology has been adapted to the pharma-ceutical industry, allowing clients to access data quickly in order to mitigate theft and prevent the entry of counterfeit drugs into the supply chain.
“Furthermore, in terms of safety, many of the new generation of drugs have to be transported carefully; they are sensitive to temperature, light, barometric pressure, excess movement or a host of other factors. PharmaTrack alerts shippers and drug companies if these thresholds are close to being breached and allows for their rectification before spoilage. If there is a breach in any given parameter, PharmaTrack alerts these ‘spoiled’ drugs so that they can be taken out of the supply chain. This ensures the efficacy of the drug is optimized when reaching the patient”.
PharmaTrack combines security and advanced data analytics to get drugs to market more efficiently and with greater safety. In terms of efficiency, PharmaTrack provides information helping to optimize the routes by which drugs are taken to market.
“Through our analytics platform, users will quickly see which routes provide for a faster journey to market and with less theft or suspected theft.”
A two-fold hit
With cost pressures and patient safety concerns, the costs of counterfeiting can’t be allowed to continue to rise. There is immense pressure on drug companies from policy makers, the media and general public to reduce the cost of drugs to end users. Drug companies also have to ensure that patients get access to a safe and reliable drug rather than a counterfeit, which could contain just about anything as far as ingredients, are concerned.
Counterfeiting is a by-product of theft where items are stolen and then replaced with something else so that this theft is not discovered. So it’s a two-fold hit on the drug company and consumers as it drives up prices through theft, and compromises safety through the introduction of goods which could be made of anything.
“By improving the transparency of their supply chain, drug companies can optimize routes to market and make getting drugs to market more efficient and with less cost. They can also put a serious dent in counterfeiting which has its own cost consequences to their business as well as broader societal and moral implications.”
Chain of custody
PharmaTrack provides complete visibility throughout the supply chain and establishes a ‘chain of custody’ for drugs as they get shipped from manufacture to dispensing. If a ‘link’ in the supply chain is broken at any stage or during any part of the shipping process, users will be quickly alerted.
PharmaTrack provides all this information in a single view and with reporting functionality and allows users to drill down to how particular drugs are shipped, ‘success’ rates in terms of different routes in terms of time, product loss, spoilage, and a host of different metrics.
There are several aspects including a tarnished reputation. Theft and counterfeiting go hand in hand. Thieves are replacing real drugs with fake ones to cover their tracks while they make money selling the real ones. But pharma companies still have to replace the stolen drugs. So there is a ‘double cost’ to drug companies associated with counterfeiting as well as the further reduction in their market as the drugs that were originally stolen are sold to potential buyers.
“However, and I can’t stress this enough, the importance of reputation far outweighs any of these ‘costs’. If a drug company loses the faith of its supply chain amongst regulatory authorities, payers, prescribers and consumers, it risks losing its entire market. In some cases, an entire drug may be taken off a formulary by a regulatory body or payer and replaced with a rival drug company drug. Should a particular company lose its reputation, consumers and prescribers are likely to choose another company’s drug that has not been compromised in the supply chain”.
Track and trace
PharmaTrack receives aggregated information for all aspects of the shipment including, where required, for temperature and other factors, with a sensor bound to a pallet, box or shipment. Once the sensor is bound, PharmaTrack receives information on the aggregated shipment. Similarly, when the aggregated shipment gets to the 3PL.
“For example, it may be de-aggregated into separate shipments and we will again have notification ad ability to track and trace that shipment and so on all the way through to delivery.”
PharmaTrack reports show exactly where the drug has been; every time it was scanned; and if there are environmental sensors involved it will show you how hot or cold it was, what barometric pressure it was under, how much stress it was under in terms of movement or how much it was jostled.
“The important part, is that not only can you watch all this information in near real time (‘near real time’ in cases where cargo is on a plane out of signal range but in ‘real time’ at pretty much all other times) but it will provide alerts if a shipment is late or earlier than normal, if a temperature sensitive drug was exposed to temperature beyond a threshold, a light threshold or any other factor.”
“PharmaTrack is a game changer because it is a first-of-its kind solution, which covers the entire gamut of the supply chain. Previous solutions covered one-or-another aspect but this is the first time our clients can have entire visibility over their supply chain including full data and metrics to allow for better decision-making as well as for theft notification and counterfeiting.
“All of this is achieved, and this is a very important point, by fully integrating with existing systems. The effort to transition to PharmaTrack is very minimal and is as close to ‘plug-and-play’ as you can get. We can use existing technology and investments our clients have already made by providing a very quick solution to problems they have been encountering for a very long time. In addition, this technology is tried and tested by Unisys in other industries.”
As a society, it is vital we feel confident that the medicines we are being prescribed do what a physician has prescribed them to do. Ethical drugs are there to cure illness and disease and are prescribed by physicians for this purpose.
“If we as a society have no confidence that the drugs we are being prescribed are beneficial to us, let alone may actually be harmful, this has all kinds of impacts on population health, costs on the healthcare system in treating chronic disease and the flow-on effects for the pharma industry and society as a whole in being able to invest in drug development and research to assist in curing disease and improving the health of the population.
“The analyses garnered from our tools can aide drug companies in pre-empting fraudulent activity and theft as well as point our clients to better and more efficient ways to ship and transport drugs to their markets,” concluded Mark.