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Building authentication ecosystems crucial to prevent falsified medicines: Experts

At a webinar “Protecting the lives and pharmaceutical supply chain during COVID-19,” experts conveyed that setting up an authentication and traceability ecosystem and stringent imposition of a regulatory framework is crucial to deal with the menace of falsified medicines

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With the rising demand for medicines and pharmaceutical equipment to tackle COVID-19, instances of sub-standard, spurious, falsely-labelled, falsified and counterfeit medical products (SSFFC) have significantly escalated, not only threatening consumer health, but also jeopardising public trust towards the healthcare system, experts said at a webinar “Protecting the lives and pharmaceutical supply chain during COVID-19” organised by ASPA and Messe Frankfurt India earlier this month.

“Every year, the global pharmaceutical supply chain loses $200 billion in revenue due to counterfeited drugs and other spurious pharmaceutical products,” stated Nakul Pasricha, President, Authentication Service Providers’ Association (ASPA).

He also provided an overview of the counterfeiting issue in India, some recent incidents of counterfeiting and the role of authentication solutions in combating this menace. On behalf of all ASPA members, he also paid tribute to UK Gupta, Suresh Sati and Urvinder Singh, three pillars of the industry, who recently passed away.

“There is a need for an ongoing focus on building and nurturing authentication ecosystems in the country, and, as an industry association, we are committed to that. The involvement and active participation of all stakeholders is extremely crucial in this, as a lot of awareness is required at the industry, government and consumer level,” he emphasised.

During the discussion, Dr Praveen Gedam, IAS, Additional CEO, National Health Authority (NHA), elaborated on the possible benefits of a comprehensive drug registry.

“The NHA is in talks with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) to create a drug registry for India. A comprehensive registry can help in tracking drugs and monitor pharmaceutical supply chain. This will not only provide consumers more choice in terms of selecting different drugs, but also help us trace the origin of a particular SKU and keep proper check on those engaged in counterfeiting.”

Further, continuing the session, Dr K Bangarurajan, Adviser, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), shared about the initiatives undertaken by the organisation to keep a tight check on counterfeiting acts.

“CDSCO has taken various actions to regulate the movement of the spurious drugs in India, such as setting up of additional drug testing laboratories both at central and state levels and strengthening regulatory measures by increasing the manpower. We have also provided additional laboratory equipment to the existing laboratories and set up special courts in all states to prosecute the offenders under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.”

During the webinar, the panellists also discussed about implementing serialisation into pharma packaging in India as a means to create a more systematic and secure supply chain.

“In many countries that import pharmaceuticals from India, serialisation is a key criterion and most of the Indian manufacturers abide by these norms. However, in India, serialisation has not yet been adopted because a majority of pharmaceutical companies still rely on the old infrastructure. It calls for complete packaging line automation – we are doing it for exports and should also aim to implement it in our domestic market to create a strong track and trace system,” said Prabir Das, SME, Pharma Packaging.

Stressing further on the importance of traceability, Subrato Dey, DGM, Industry Engagement, GS1 India, added, “It is important to create a strong end-to-end visibility and employ a strong track and trace system to make the supply chain secure from counterfeiters. Serialisation of pharmaceuticals is still a challenge in India. However, we need to start somewhere. Setting track and trace at least on the secondary and tertiary level will be a great stride towards this objective.”

e-Pharmacies have witnessed a strong surge due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions in place. However, the threat of procuring spurious products still remains.

Addressing this issue, Gaurav Bhatia, General Manager – Supply Chain, Reliance Retail – Pharma, said, “E- pharmacies form an intermediate node that links the pharmaceutical manufacturer with the consumer. Since e-pharmacies employ registered pharmacists, setting up a mechanism where these pharmacists could verify and authenticate each stock will play an effective role in filtering the spurious products from the supply chain.”

The webinar was supported by the authentication partners and solutions providers including Shriram Veritech, PharmaSecure and Holographic Security Marking Systems.

While most counterfeit offenses are non-bailable, the increasing number of counterfeiters every year demands more stringent response from the regulatory authorities, which means a swifter mechanism to identify and prosecute counterfeiters along with the imposition of heavier penalty. Messe Frankfurt India and ASPA will continue to provide a platform to discuss anti-counterfeiting measures across the industry through the next edition of The Authentication Forum.

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