Back in 2000, audio engineer Avery Wang invented the technology inside Shazam, an app that turns your smartphone into an expert in “Name That Tune”. Far from a frivolous app to alleviate the frustration of having a song’s name on the tip of your tongue, Shazam has revolutionized the way music is promoted, written, and consumed. Similarly, advances in computer vision along with the speed, capacity, and camera quality of smartphones now make it possible to definitively authenticate pills simply by Snapping a picture – without product modification. Now any consumer, pharmacist, clinician, investigator or QA engineer – anywhere – can precisely validate the authenticity of solid oral products. How will this change supply chain security and its contribution to the value of pharmaceutical products?
A Secure Supply Chain Becomes a Consumer Marketing Advantage – Especially in Developing Markets
Developing markets are particularly challenging – yet they represent huge growth opportunities. Consumers in markets with a high prevalence of counterfeits are well aware of the problem and can be hesitant to spend hard earned money on brand or generic medications they see as risky. Consumer authentication of the physical product is a huge marketing opportunity and potential differentiator.
Authenticating Returned Goods
A counterfeiter’s backdoor to easy profitability at your organization’s expense is to return fake product for a refund. Given about 2% of all product is returned, there is significant profit to be made – especially with popular brands. Until now there hasn’t been a scalable or practical way to authenticate returned physical product. Combining physical product assessment with the capture of track and trace barcode data could provide additional insights.
Monitoring Visual Integrity Across a Global Production Network
CMOs are increasingly a part of production and the manufacturing process has been miniaturized to the extent it can now take place almost anywhere. But different facilities, operators, equipment, and excipients can produce output with significant variation in appearance. Deviation in visual appearance of a product can increase the potential for recalls as well as make it easier for counterfeiters to pass imitations as authentic. Undocumented variation also makes it more difficult to determine the source of diverted product. Authentication of each batch prior to release ensures the product is visually within statistical bounds of visual authenticity. If slight visual variation is desired, then new appearance models can be seamlessly added to increase the scope of the definition of authentic. One application of this is to create slight visual variation between lots to track parallel trade between markets. In this way the definition of authentic can keep pace with an increasingly complex manufacturing network.
Crisis Intervention, Management and Brand Protection
It’s your worst nightmare. The legitimate supply chain has been breached and a counterfeit causes newsworthy harm to patients. Where to start and how to respond? Rapid deployment of an easy to use smartphone app that allows patients, pharmacists, public health, and law enforcement officials to quickly authenticate your medications projects a strong message of corporate responsibility and preparedness, and allows your compliance, regulatory, and crisis/brand management teams to stay ahead of potentially damaging media coverage. In addition, the extent of the breach and visual characteristics of the dangerous counterfeit can be quickly captured and shared with public health and law enforcement.
Patient Adherence and Logistical Data Converge
In addition to verifying integrity at the end of the supply chain, authentication can be incorporated into branded patient adherence monitoring tools, and accomplish two goals in one – knowledge that the patient received an authentic, unadulterated medication, and observing how they consume them. Along with location and timing information, the value of the data reaches beyond supply chain to marketing and clinical colleagues.
“I can authenticate those pills in one Snap, Jim.”
New highly scalable authentication technology will broaden interest in product security as a marketing opportunity in emerging markets, increase the ability of QA to track visual variation in product across manufacturing sites, shut down easy routes for counterfeiter profit, and provide new data sets for use by our clinical and marketing colleagues.