Texting system reveals fake drugs

The Boston Globe

September 26, 2011

By Karen Weintraub

In Nigeria, the simple act of popping a pill can be life threatening.

Will the medication be what it says it is, made by a reputable company? Or will it be a clever copy that looks virtually indistinguishable, but contains a sugar pill at best - or, at worst, something like the tainted teething syrup that killed at least 80 babies in 2009?

Although no one knows the full scope of the problem, one study found that 35 percent of malaria drugs in Nigeria were fakes, and others suggest that counterfeit medicines are rampant across the developing world, including in India, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and parts of South America.

Sproxil Inc., based in Cambridge, is helping customers in those countries distinguish genuine medicines from fakes. Using a system it calls mobile product authentication, Sproxil allows customers to text a number on the package to confirm or refute the drug’s authenticity. The process “is designed to use the abundance of cellphones to empower the consumers to avoid purchasing fake products,’’ said company founder Ashifi Gogo. “This way, they can reestablish trust between the consumer and the pharmacy.’’

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