The production and distribution of counterfeit drugs is a serious problem, especially in developing countries. Counterfeit drugs are not only ineffective, but they can be detrimental. Despite this, many patients suffering from life-threatening diseases often face the risk of buying counterfeit drugs. To further complicate the issue, counterfeit drugs are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Although most prevalent in the developing world, the problem is global. According to WHO statistics, 10 % of medications worldwide are counterfeit, and in some developing countries this figure is significantly higher.
A team of scientists at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society recently announced the development of a new technology that reduces the time needed to check a drug sample for authenticity from a half hour to a few minutes. The new method uses mass spectrometry, a standard laboratory technology that weighs molecules in order to identify them. With this system, samples of suspicious origin can be quickly and accurately tested.
Especially in countries where counterfeiting is prevalent, this will potentially have a great impact – scientists report that up to 50% of the drug samples tested from Southeast Asia are counterfeit. Using the spectrometric method, researchers were able to identify several counterfeit antimalarials from sources in Africa and Southeast Asia. Currently, the team is working on developing an affordable, portable version of the device that could be used in the field. This would be particularly beneficial in areas where counterfeiting is currently difficult to test and control. It will allow testing of a large number of samples within a much shorter time frame than currently available traditional methods, with quick and accurate analysis of a wide variety of anti-infective drugs.
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