Turning the spotlight on counterfeit drugs

Glasgow firm develops a system to identify illegal medicines

Gilden Photonics has devised a portable system that uses a beam of light to detect counterfeit drugs by comparing the spectral signature of the fakes with the real drugs.

The Glasgow-based firm says everything has a unique spectral ‘fingerprint’, which can be measured by examining the range of colours reflected by a beam of light directed on or through the object.

‘The technology uses a laser and a spectrograph combined and is small enough to be taken out into the field,’ said Kevin Lynch of Gilden Photonics.

‘When the laser beam passes through we check the reflection from the drug in the spectral graph. As we have a database which shows what the real drug should look like we can tell whether the substance is the real deal or not in no time at all.’

Kevin Lynch says the portable system uses a beam of light to detect counterfeits by comparing the spectral signature of fakes with the real drugs

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 10% of medicines globally are counterfeit, with as much as a third being fake in some developing countries.

In the last three years there have been nine recalls of counterfeit medicines in the UK which had reached pharmacy and patient levels while a further five cases were discovered at wholesaler level before they reached the market.

Many counterfeit drugs are imported into the UK from manufacturers in India, China, Brazil and Russia and, until now, many of the fakes are very difficult to distinguish without time-consuming laboratory testing.

‘Hyperspectral imaging has been around for about 15 years but very few people know about its potential. The technology has until recently remained largely untapped,’ added Lynch.

Gilden Photonics is a designer, manufacturer and supplier of optical spectroscopy systems, components, turnkey instruments and OEM components.

‘We have built a range of sensors which look at objects using a wide portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We have used this to build up a major database of known materials which can then be used to compare with samples.’