Scientists have developed an improved chemical analysis method that is more efficient and five times faster in detecting counterfeit medicines such as Viagra, which have skyrocketed in recent years.
The method developed by the researchers at the University of Montreal identifies and quantifies the various compounds present in a pharmaceutical product, in a fifth of the time it takes governmental services to do the same job.
"Fake drugs are a scourge for public health," said Philippe Lebel from the university's Department of Chemistry. Once a simple artisanal activity, counterfeiting has become a global industry linked to organised crime and the mafia.
"According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide sales of counterfeit medicines reached $ 75 billion in 2010. Sildenafil citrate, better known by its trade name, Viagra, and the two other erectile dysfunction drugs, Cialis and Levitra, are among the most counterfeited drugs in the world," researchers said.
Lebel developed an analytical method to detect the 80 substances that may be substituted for the active ingredients in the three erectile dysfunction drugs on the market: Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. Thirty pharmaceutical and natural products were then analysed to test and prove the potential of the new method.
"Our approach does not only target a medication's active ingredient," said Alexandra Furtos.
"Rather, using a scanning technique, it also detects non-targeted compounds, some of them new synthetic analogs of the active ingredient. This is the originality of the method," said Furtos.
"Our analysis takes ten minutes, whereas previously, it took up to fifty. In addition, our method identifies compounds that were not identified before, even in low concentrations," says Lebel.
Another sign that the approach is promising is that Health Canada has already incorporated it in its counterfeit monitoring process, researchers said. The threat of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is not new. But the growth of e-commerce has flooded the market with a wide range of both brand name and generic drugs, researchers said. The study was published in the Journal of Chromatography.