QR can detect counterfeit or substandard drugs without removing the product from its packaging. A team of international researchers hope to put this technology in the hands of regulators, wholesalers and law enforcement by developing a battery-powered, briefcase-sized device.
Priorities for the researchers are that the device is robust and inexpensive. This will make the device affordable for low-income countries, where counterfeits a more common, and ensure it is durable enough to protect the QR technology.
QR uses radio waves to study the chemical structure of solid materials. The technology is underpinned by the known variations in QR signals that are caused by the type of chemical bonds between atoms, the presence of impurities and other factors linked to the production process.
Detecting these variations allows the user to determine if a product is genuine or substandard. The approach could also be used to improve the quality control process for genuine drugs.
A broad range of solids can be analysed using QR. It is particularly suited to analysis of nitrogen, chlorine or bromine, sodium and potassium compounds. This group includes the majority of drugs. The technique is capable of detecting variations through layers of packaging.
“QR can detect signals through multiple layers of, for example, cardboard, glass, plastic and/or wood, eliminating the need to remove drugs from their packaging prior to the analysis", said Kaspar Althoefer from the Division of Engineering at King's College London.
This allows the user to analyse a drug without removing it from its packaging. Drugs found to be genuine can then be returned to the supply chain, with counterfeits retained for use as evidence in future criminal proceedings.
To fund the research the team, which includes scientists from King’s College London, UK and Lund University, Sweden, have been awarded £473,000 ($731,000) by the Wellcome Trust. The team expects to have the first-generation of the device ready to take to market within two years.