The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations has hailed the success of a pilot project assessing a new system of drug dispensing designed to battle the growing problem of counterfeit medicines.

The method was constructed to tighten up security at the point the medicine is dispensed by the pharmacist, by introducing a new product verification system based on a two-dimensional data matrix, which can carry more information than a normal bar code, the Federation said.

The pilot project scanned and verified almost 100,000 packs of medicines in 25 pharmacies across Stockholm at the time of dispensing, and was run in collaboration pharmaceutical retail chain Apoteket AB, with support from distributors Tamro and KD Pharma.

According to the EFPIA, the results show that the new verification system is “robust and effective” and could prove to be “a valuable asset” in protecting patients from the risk of counterfeit medicines polluting the legitimate supply chain.

The pilot demonstrated that the system is able to effectively weed out any packs of medicine that are fake as well as those that have expired or been recalled, and the results “strongly indicate” that the model is “ viable, proportionate, secure and cost-effective”, the Federation claimed.

Stefan Carlsson, Apoteket’s chief executive, said the system “integrated seamlessly” into the company’s existing point of sale system and normal workflow, and that the experience gained through the pilot suggests it will be “valuable for preventing counterfeits and for other management functions in the pharmacies”.

The supply chain is becoming increasingly vulnerable to infiltration by counterfeit medicines as both criminal activity in this area and its level of sophistication is on the rise. According to some estimates, counterfeit drug sales will cap $75 billion this year, rocketing more than 90% from 2005, as awareness of the potentially huge returns this kind of business can make grows.

Harmonised system
While the EFPIA’s suggested dispensing model has shown promise as a useful weapon in the fight against fake drugs, it is paramount that any new system “is harmonised and interoperable across Europe,” the agency noted. “If the safe and free movement of medicines across borders is to be improved, a coordinated approach to identification and verification of medicines is essential”, it stressed.

Along these lines, the Federation believes all national coding systems must be interoperable and based on common standards, so that any pharmacist in any country can verify whether a pack with the same serial number has been dispensed before, independent of its country of origin.

“Without standardisation and interoperability, there is a risk that the national identification and verification systems will be fragmented, limiting the ability to verify a product’s provenance to national product codes”, the EFPIA warned.