The problem of counterfeiting has sadly returned to the spotlight with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry is obviously the hardest hit: the case of fake FFP2 masks has been in the news for a few weeks now, and the deep-web seems to be full of coronavirus vaccines for sale at exorbitant prices.

The health emergency has therefore made life easier for fraudsters, who have found online sales to be a safe channel for illegal trade.

Anti-counterfeit pharmaceutical packaging is surely the most appropriate solution to such a deep-rooted and widespread problem, together with a worldwide unity of purpose and effort. 

Counterfeit pharmaceutical packaging as a global phenomenon

With the advent of the pandemic, EUROPOL (European Union’s law enforcement agency) and EUPIO (European Union Intellectual Property Office) have drawn attention to this worrying and growing phenomenon: counterfeit medicines represent a turnover of some $4 billion at international level.

According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a partner of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), 15.6% of counterfeit medicines have fake packaging.

This is not just a European phenomenon: counterfeit companies are found all over the world, with a particular concentration in Asian countries and the United States. Due to the global lack of medicines and medical devices, counterfeiters have exploited e-commerce (in particular online pharmacies), marketplaces and social media to sell their products.

The dangers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals: Patients’ health and the economical damage

The massive presence of counterfeit pharmaceutical products on the international market should be of particular concern.

This is not just a legal issue: the health of patients is constantly at risk and the damage to the economy of pharmaceutical companies is huge.

The biggest problem is the packaging of the product. The ability of counterfeiters to replicate labels and packaging has made the pharmaceutical product much more vulnerable than in the years before the advent of e-commerce.

The online availability of different types of medicines is definitely an advantage, especially in the midst of a pandemic when freedom of movement is severely limited due to restrictions.

But the fact that it is so easy to find leaflets, photos and videos of pharmaceutical products on the internet is a huge risk: the identity, origin and traceability of medicines is invaluable information for anyone who can take advantage of it. Pharmaceutical companies therefore suffer considerable damage in terms of image, sales and turnover. The challenge they face today, in particular, is to ensure product compliance at all stages of production and during transport.

How to prevent counterfeiting of pharmaceutical packaging?

More and more pharmaceutical companies are therefore looking for anti-counterfeit packaging, which allows them to verify the authenticity of the product and recognise it even when it has been tampered with.

We at Favia, a leading manufacturer of aluminium tubes, have responded to this need.

ToBeUnique was born out of the need for secure packaging that would prevent any attempt at replication: it is a digital print on aluminium tubes that is unique in the world and currently impossible to replicate. This particular printing process ensures continuity of design between cap and tube, discouraging counterfeiting and protecting the integrity of product and brand.

Still, it was not enough for us. To prove the authenticity of the pharmaceutical product to the end consumer and security agencies, we created a totally innovative packaging solution: Smart Aluminium Tube, which transforms deformable aluminium tubes into packaging that communicates.

Each tube and its entire surface is printed with a code that is invisible to the human eye, but can be read with special readers on your smartphone. The user can then access a series of contents relating to the medicine or medical device, such as leaflets, videos, tips and general information on the pathology that the medicine treats or prevents.

The security of our Smart Aluminium Tube is the code: it is not a simple QRcode, but one that can be used even if the tube is bent, crushed or rolled during use.

Innovation comes to our aid in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceutical packaging, especially in these difficult times when the authenticity of information and products are put at risk on a daily basis.