Protecting the Pharmaceutical Industry from counterfeit drugs

The entire pharmaceutical supply chain must develop greater awareness of the current measures to fight medical counterfeiters. Here are the steps every pharma company needs to take, and how U-NICA can help.

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Introduction to protecting the Pharmaceutical Industry from counterfeit drugs

The global black market for counterfeit pharmaceuticals is estimated at $200 billion and thought to comprise 2.5% of the entire industry. What’s worse, that criminal infection is spreading at a rate of 20% every year. Pharma has some methods in place to fight back, but there’s a lot more to do before medical supply chains can be called secure.

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Pharmaceutical product identification

The importance of brand value and product protection in the pharmaceutical industry can’t be overstated. The goal of modern pharmaceutical product identification is three-fold protection of the public, the products and the brands.


Several methods to identify counterfeit medicines are currently in global use — such as Physical-Chemical Identifiers, which allow consumers to verify a pill’s authenticity by variables like size, shape and color. Serialization, Track-and-Trace and aggregation have been employed around the world to protect pharmaceuticals from counterfeiters with various degrees of success, but these measures need to be used in tandem with product protection at every step of the supply chain to provide effective counterfeit protection.


Medicine identification, product verification and brand authentication are intricately linked. Without the ability to verify medicines, people could become sicker or die. Without product verification, whole pharma supply chains can be corrupted. Lastly, consumer trust can be destroyed if counterfeits tarnish a brand.

It’s a three-way chain that only diligence, awareness and compliance can strengthen. Even then, opportunities for counterfeiters still exist. Can pharma manufacturers comply with security standards and still fail? The answer is “yes”.


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The current state of anti-counterfeiting compliance


All pharmaceutical supply chains have four main weak points:

  • The initial order to the distribution partner
  • Contact with the distribution center
  • The pick/pack/ship process
  • Transportation to the seller

One weak link lets counterfeiters in. A supply chain must be fully aware and compliant to become secure.

This requires real-time information, communication and end-to-end traceability. Track-and-Trace (T&T) uses past and present location monitoring on drugs that can go as far back as the raw materials sourced right up to the finished product.

This gives the supply chain a better picture of where products have been. However, T&T’s typical dependence on serial numbers stamped on batches of drugs is a weakness. It doesn’t translate to single products within the batch and relies on every supply node entering and reading serials without error.

Aggregation applies labels to batches and individual packets with serial numbers that are expanded at each stage of the supply chain to allow easy traceability, but this practice has not been widely adopted. Some cite expense, others technology clashes. Human error is again a weakness since the hierarchy of numbers must be entered correctly to the last digit at every stage.

With anti-counterfeit compliance deadlines sometimes many years away, depending on the territory, some manufacturers are in no hurry to embrace security. Track and Trace and aggregation are respectable international efforts for those using them, but U-NICA provides a layer of further security.

Consumer safety against counterfeiters

Pharma producers meeting mandatory requirements may ask why they should do anything more to protect consumers. The answer is that without taking all possible steps — not just the minimum — a product and brand could lose their customer base entirely. Worse, an incident could degrade consumer faith in the whole industry.


Pharma brands large and small face the same threat. This huge bust came seven years after the Drug Chain Supply Security Act began in America. In the EU, where unique tamper-proof measures are mandatory on medical packaging, counterfeits worth 165 million Euros were seized last year

Mandatory minimums are no safeguard against counterfeiters. Manufacturers must do more.


Consumers can also protect themselves by knowing what to look for and who to speak to. One of the biggest risks is consumers having too much faith in online pharmaceutical sellers. At least 11% of all online pharmacies are fake.

It’s essential to verify a site’s security and check its accreditation by the NABP with a “.pharmacy” domain or a VIPPS, EU or other relevant logo for authorized pharmacies in your country. Regardless of digital or physical purchases, consumers should only buy medicines from licensed providers.

Interpol recommends following consumer best practices and reporting any counterfeit suspicions to the police and regulatory authorities.

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The time is now for anti-counterfeit protection! Start fighting against counterfeiters and changing the rules

The next step is easy. With our support, we can start your fight against counterfeiters easily and effectively. Let's take the journey together. 


U-NICA — your ally in the anti-counterfeit fight

Our scryptoTRACE® solution is a fully scalable tool against counterfeiting that empowers the entire product cycle from manufacturer to patient. It’s an end-to-end brand value protection and product protection solution that can be integrated into every step of the product value chain, from design and manufacturing to distribution, sales and purchasing. 

We help consumers easily authenticate genuine products and allow the product/brand owner to track counterfeiting activity and gather information that will help ensure successful arrests and prosecutions of these criminals. Several different security levels can be applied to the same object to allow different methods of authentication for consumers, professional inspectors and customs officials.

With these markings, every link in the supply chain can use our unique smartphone app to determine a product’s authenticity quickly and reliably.

MORE ABOUT scryptoTRACE  suite scryptoTRACE

In some scenarios, U-NICA's plastoTRACE® allows holographic elements to be embedded directly into product design with no waste or clean up, enabling cost-effective lifetime authenticity checks. This provides invisible trademark protection for products at levels ranging from covert to forensic.

More about plastoTRACE suite


All these measures can combine, adding multiple layers to help pharma stay compliant and safe. U-NICA can also help create a culture of anti-counterfeiting communication and awareness in your company so that everyone in your supply chain is security-conscious and trained to make sure the product stays safe.

Connect with us and join your allies around the world in fighting counterfeit pharmaceuticals.



2020 will be another booming year for the black market. Deciding how much of their profits come from your brand is within your power. Browse our product pages and knowledge hub for the complete counterfeiting picture and learn more about making U-NICA your brand shield.


U-NICA are a team with a single purpose: supporting you in the fight to protect your brand’s integrity and value. Connect with us for more information on our constantly evolving open solution suite, or schedule time with U-NICA Head of Business Development and Product Management, Pius Haas. U-NICA has offices int the United States/North America, Switzerland/Europe as well as Singapore/Asia. You can contact us directly or via social media.



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