News archive 2010
Grant to combat counterfeit drugs27 Jul 2010, PR 164/10
The Wellcome Trust has awarded £473,000 to a team of King’s researchers, to be led by Dr Kaspar Althoefer, Reader in Sensing and Embedded Systems, for the creation of a system that can identify counterfeit and substandard drugs.
Working in collaboration with scientists at Lund University, Sweden, the team will use the Translation Award as a springboard to commercialisation, with the aim of producing an inexpensive and rugged instrument for the developing world, where the problem of drugs counterfeiting is particularly acute.
Dr Kaspar Althoefer from the Division of Engineering at King’s, who will lead the programme, comments: ‘There is a growing awareness that counterfeit and substandard drugs constitute a fast-growing threat to public health the whole world over. To take just one example: the use of substandard drugs – drugs that contain an incorrect amount of active ingredient due to poor manufacturing controls or losses due to aging – can lead to fatalities and also the emergence of drug-resistant forms of infectious agents, which has disastrous consequences for medical treatment programmes.’
Current estimates are that around one per cent of drugs in developed countries, and anywhere from 10 – 30 per cent of drugs in developing countries, are counterfeit . The proportion of substandard drugs is thought to be even higher. There is a pressing need for reliable methods of authenticating pharmaceutical products before they reach the patient.
Dr Althoefer continues: ‘Our approach is based on quadrupole resonance spectroscopy (QR), a technique that uses harmless radio-waves to study the chemical structure of solid materials. 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. We are privileged to have Professor John A S Smith, one of the world's leading authorities in QR methods, as part of our team.’
As the method is non-invasive and non-destructive - once the drug is given the all-clear, it can be returned to the shelf or passed safely to the patient. Any drug that fails the test can be retained for further testing or for use as evidence in future criminal proceedings.
QR can be used to analyse a broad range of solid materials and, in particular, it is ideally suited for the analysis of nitrogen, chlorine or bromine, sodium and potassium compounds, a group that includes over 80 per cent of all drugs.
The key to the project is that QR signals vary in known ways according to the type of chemical bonds between atoms in the material under examination, the presence of impurities and other factors specific to that material and how it was made. This means that counterfeit or substandard versions of the same drug can readily be distinguished and classified. This approach could not only be used to detect fake medicines, but could also improve quality control of genuine drugs.
Ted Bianco, Director of Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust, comments: ‘There is nothing more invidious than putting lives at risk through the counterfeiting of medicines. The victims are often the poor and the most vulnerable in society. We need the tools to detect the fakes, trace the perpetrators and galvanise the industry to show zero tolerance to this evil practice.’
This translation award application was supported by research funded by the King’s Business Futures Fund which drives innovation in order that an opportunity is better positioned to seek funding, investment, collaboration, or commercialisation. This investment supports a key strategy of the College to stimulate the promotion and identification of King's innovation through research and to realise its full health and economic impact.
The King’s team are in the process of creating their first generation product, a battery-powered, briefcase-sized device for use by regulatory authorities, pharmaceutical wholesalers and law enforcement agencies, and anticipate that it will be market-ready within two years.
Notes to editors
 Conference Report and Briefing: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/Policy/Spotlight-issues/Counterfeit-medicines/index.htm
The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
King’s Business is responsible for driving innovation within King’s College London. A subsidiary of the College, the company develops new opportunities for engagement with business and the public sector across the whole range of academic disciplines. King’s Business works with academics to deliver research collaborations, exchange know-how, promote consultancy services, license new technologies and create new business ventures. For more information visit www.kcl.ac.uk/business
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,000 students (of whom more than 8,600 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 5,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
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