Marie Freebody, email@example.com
HONOLULU – The global pharmaceutical market is worth $800
billion annually, and approximately 10 percent of this is thought to be counterfeit.
Most drug manufacturers employ printed codes or serial numbers, bar codes or hologram
stickers on packaging to authenticate their products. But a new optically read microtag
that can be applied directly to the surface of the tablet or capsule could provide
a more robust solution to combat counterfeiters.
TruTag Technologies has developed an edible microtag that reflects
a unique spectral light signature that can be measured using a simple, low-cost
spectrometer-based optical reader. This means that tablets can be verified through
clear packaging without having to be removed from their blister packs.
Tablets with TruTags can be verified through blister packs using a portable spectrometer.
“On-dose authentication is a relatively new and emerging
market that has been developing quietly in the background,” said Mike O’Neill,
chief technology officer at TruTag Technologies. “There clearly is an industry
need for on-dose authentication because the counterfeiters have figured out how
to beat current packaging-level security systems.”
The technology, although extremely well suited to the pharmaceutical
and supplements industry, also is scalable to applications in a wide variety of
markets, including semiconductors, consumer electronics, aircraft parts, medical
devices, food and wine, textiles and luxury goods.
The microtags contain tiny nanopores, or voids, manufactured to
produce the tag’s unique spectral signature. The nano-porous structure can
be controlled to affect the localized index of refraction, such that, in effect,
the tablets are coated with custom-made optical interference filters. The company
has controlled the manufacturing process so that up to a trillion unique spectral
patterns can be achieved, allowing for an enormous amount of data management flexibility
Because the tags are made from clear, 100 percent silicon dioxide,
which has been safely used as an ingredient in food and drugs for decades, they
are both edible and biologically inert. The spectral code is etched into a silicon
wafer from which microtags are created, and it is converted to silicon dioxide by
heat. The resultant microtags, called TruTags, can be associated with information
such as product strength, lot number, expiration date, authorized country of sale
and authorized customer.
Hundreds of TruTags occupy an area about the size of the head of a pin. Each tag is barely visible to the naked eye. Images courtesy of TruTag Technologies.
For advanced security, the microtag characteristics can be linked
to – and verified by – other information printed on the package, in
such a way that the medicine and packaging are authenticated together.
“Tampering with either the package or the contents in this
scenario would flag a security violation. The microtags can also be used to track
placebos versus active dosages in clinical trial programs to ensure data integrity
and speed time to market,” O’Neill said.
With tablet and capsule manufacturers in mind, the tags are applied
via industry-standard pan coaters so that they can be applied to the surface of
tablets or mixed into capsule shells during manufacture. The hope is that drugmakers
will employ microtags for quality assurance, returns monitoring and in cases where
counterfeit product is of concern.
TruTag Technologies currently is in trials with a major US nutraceutical
company and has tested the microtags in a variety of applications both with clear
and nominally opaque coatings.
O’Neill said that this pilot partner applied the tags to
its tablets without making any changes to its existing manufacturing process and
without any effect on the look or feel of the coatings. “We are now in four-corner
testing to see how the tagged tablets perform under accelerated shelf life conditions,
by applying high heat and humidity,” he added.