Every day, people take medicines with the explicit assumption that it is the genuine article. Those who, unwittingly or otherwise, take fake or stolen drugs, are taking a leap into the unknown.
"Access to the wrong medicine, whether it's been counterfeited or diverted out of a cold chain, is an issue of life or death," says Ara Ohanian, chief executive officer at Systech. The company specialises in delivering groundbreaking brand protection for the pharmaceutical industry. In his experience, the sector is failing to keep pace with the efforts of counterfeiters. While serialisation is the first step a pharmaceutical producer should take in securing their supply chain, it remains vulnerable to abuse.
"The link between the physical and the digital world is still the weakest point," says Ohanian. "I've heard some companies talk about fortifying the process by taking a serialised number and putting it in the blockchain as a node, so it cannot be duplicated or changed. And while that may enhance security in principle, in practice they may be recording data that has already been compromised at the physical level."
To that end, Systech has introduced UniSecure brand protection, where each pharmaceutical consignment is given its own digital efingerprint, which records multiple data points simultaneously. This solution is preferable, Ohanian says, to physical alteration of the cargo. "What we do is take any QR code or barcode on the product and change everything without changing anything," he explains. "Systech employs a series of algorithms that interprets a picture taken of the medicine on the assembly line, and looks for 1,100 points of distinction around that one barcode."
These differences are often imperceptible. Systech's technology is capable of perceiving changes in humidity between one type of paper packaging and another, or slight deviations in lines of printed ink. "If anyone tries to duplicate that particular barcode or QR code, they could never change the fact that there were specific distinctions between those variables," says Ohanian. "In fact, the chances of reproducing them become next to impossible. In tests we conducted with Salt Hill Statistical, it was estimated that the chances of replicating the system would be one in 55 quadrillion."
All of this data is stored in the blockchain, where it cannot be altered or duplicated. "With that, the client has a guaranteed link to a unique product identifier in the physical world," Ohanian adds.
This digital efingerprint is easily tracked through the wider supply chain via the use of UniTrace, Systech's proprietary track and trace software. "For instance, if you have a serum that needs to be part of a cold chain, and is headed to multiple countries, every time that medicine arrives in a pallet in a particular facility, it is scanned and the information about that product is recorded," Ohanian explains. This functionality is complemented by a forensic heat map, in which clients can pinpoint possible points at which their products have been diverted from their normal supply chains. By downloading Systech's UniSecure verification app onto their mobile devices, customers can also scan individual products to confirm their authenticity.
With this intricate inspection and tracking system, Systech has effectively fortified pharmaceutical logistics chains against criminal predation for decades to come. For Ohanian, it couldn't come a moment too soon. "The ways the industry has tried to solve the issues of counterfeiting and diversion in the supply chain have been designed to solve yesterday's threats, and certainly not today's or tomorrow's. What you need are innovative technologies that will protect patients in the pharma space 100% of the time," he concludes.