The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of the global pharmaceutical supply is counterfeit, and the number is accelerating, especially in developing nations.
It's not just Viagra. Increasingly, all types of fake pharmaceuticals are infiltrating the supply chain, from medicines for heart disease and diabetes to high cholesterol. This clearly means a drag on profits for Big Pharma companies. But unlike in, say, entertainment or software, the potential ramifications go far beyond the balance sheet. "The consequences are quite severe," says Dean Hart, executive VP of NanoGuardian, a maker of anti-counterfeiting technology.
NanoGuardian, a spin-off of Skokie, Ill., nanotechnology company NanoInk, is nearing the final stages of bringing a novel pill verification/protection scheme to market. To date, pharmaceutical companies have mainly addressed counterfeiting with unique tracking identifiers such as RFID tags, barcodes, and hard-to-replicate visual features like holograms--either at the palette level or on product boxes. "All these packaging technologies are important," says Hart. "But when was the last time you went to the pharmacy and got the package that your pills were sent in?" NanoGuardian goes further. Using a type of nanolithography that the company licensed from Northwestern University earlier this decade, NanoGuardian embosses every pill with nano and micron-scale identifiers.
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