The researchers from New York University wanted to create a low cost system because they believe “the state of purity and safety controls for pharmaceuticals in the developing world today is nothing short of dismal”.
Their solution to the problem, called Epothecary was presented at MobiHeld 2009, which took place in Barcelona, Spain earlier this month. Epothecary is software that regulatory bodies can install on cell phones that are then distributed to parties in the legitimate pharma supply chain.
As well as being assigned a camera phone with the software people in the supply chain would also receive a photo ID with a unique glyph on it. By using the camera phone, Epothecary and the ID the user can scan a tag on the pharma packaging and confirm the products validity.
The research paper, which can be found here, details a range of safeguards that are inherent in the system. However, the researchers acknowledge that the system is vulnerable if the regulatory body is corrupt.
Although the researchers believe this system is effective for the supply chain a different method is needed to provide consumers with a way of ensuring the product is legitimate.
The system for consumers only needs a basic phone, as opposed to one with a camera, to ensure it can be used by as many people as possible.
When purchasing the medicine the consumer will be given an eight-digit reference number that can be sent via text message to the regulatory body to check if the product is counterfeit.
The researchers acknowledge that all systems have weaknesses but believe they have demonstrated “a technically robust, cost-effective system” that is a “significant technical and regulatory barrier to those hoping to prey on the ill”.