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University of Leicester team develops counterfeit drug detection technology

Space-age technology and crime research have combined for this new development.

University of Leicester researchers have combined crime research and space-age technology in ways that could lead to the quick detection of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in a black market that is currently worth an estimated $40billion per year.

Professor George Fraser and Professor Martin Gill have combined their expertise in space physics and crime and security, and their Spectral ID project has been shortlisted for a Lord Stafford Award in the ‘Innovation in Development’ category.

Born out of collaboration between Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International (PRCI) – a spin-out company of the University of Leicester – and the University’s Space Research Centre, the project was initiated in 2005. It identified the need for a system that could quickly identify a counterfeit drug product in the field. Existing solutions involve additional cost, and detection can involve laboratory tests and other testing. The team at Spectral ID discovered a simple low-cost solution that doesn’t require special measures being taken by the manufacturer.

Professor Fraser, Director of the University’s Space Research Centre, said: ’Pharmaceutical manufacturers do not have a simple to use, speedy, non-destructible method of detecting counterfeits and we have the potential to offer just that. Feedback results from the use of our device are obtained within seconds.’

The use of counterfeit drugs can have serious implications, including loss of life, for patients. Manufacturers are also acutely aware of the negative impact counterfeiters can have on their brands.

Spectral ID’s technique relies on detecting the differences between the characteristics of light reflected from printed packaging. The unique light source incorporated within the system and the selection of the crucial points on the packaging at which the tests are conducted provides a degree of randomness that is not known to the counterfeiter and restricts the potential for replication.

The technology has been developed from a spectrograph originally designed by the Space Research Centre for astronomical research, and trials so far have resulted in a 100% success rate in identifying counterfeit products where the differences could not be detected by the untrained naked eye.

Professor Gill, former Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester and head of PRCI, said: ’The need to remove counterfeit drugs is greatest in the developing countries but there have been an increasing number of reports of them becoming available in the developed world. Other end users would include hospitals, pharmacies, ethical distributors, customs, police, security services and trading standards bodies.’

Lord Stafford, Patron of the Awards, concluded: ’Counterfeit drugs are a major international problem and the need to be able to quickly detect and ultimately remove them from the supply chain, particularly in the developing world, will prevent catastrophic consequences.’

Backed by the East Midlands Development Agency, MAS East Midlands, the East Midlands Universities Association and Lincolnshire County Council, the Lord Stafford Awards are designed to celebrate and recognise innovative collaborations between business and universities. The winners of the awards, which cover ‘Innovation Achieved’, ‘Innovation in Development’ and ‘Innovation in Sustainability’, will be announced on September 10th at the Epic Centre in Lincolnshire.

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