Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chain of Custody Dilemma: Recovering Stolen Pharma Products

By: Alan Clock, Senior Vice President, XStream Systems

What happens to pharmaceutical products that are recovered intact, meaning in their original packaging or shipping containers, following a theft or high jacking?

According to most experts, the policy of Pharma companies is to destroy these recovered products because they have broken the chain of custody or transaction. The logic is that no one wants to assume the liability of the efficacy of the products because they are uncertain if the products were affected or somehow altered during their time spent outside of legitimate charge.

This is an obviously an expensive and wasteful expense especially if there is a technology available that would allow the supply chain to test these products, within their sealed, unit-of-sale container. A technology that will verify that the material inside is safe and has not been altered, tampered or somehow counterfeited without destroying or degrading the drug.

Recent statistics are showing a significant surge in criminal organizations targeting Pharma products within the pharmaceutical supply chain (manufacturer, distributor, dispenser and consumer). These groups are stealing large shipments; in transit to sell within gray or black markets for significant profits. Fortunately as the problem escalates, law enforcement and security often are recovering or interdicting these criminal acts quickly.

The following are some recent examples:

- Polish police have recovered eleven tons of human blood plasma that had been stolen at a truck rest stop in Germany while in transit to Austria. The owner of the plasma, BioLife Plasma Services, a subsidiary of Baxter International, valued the shipment at around $1.4m. All of the product had been recovered in its original boxes and packaging.

- Police recovered intact a shipment of Alcon Labs and Teva Pharmaceutical products, stolen on February 22. The value of the shipment has not been disclosed but included 70 pallets of assorted prescription, over-the-counter and personal healthcare products.

- A pharmaceutical shipment including products valued at over $500,000 belonging to Sanofi-Aventis was hijacked in Puerto Rico on January 29. A wide range of prescription medicines and vaccines was taken in the incident.

- AstraZeneca lost in transit, a FedEx shipment in late December/early January. The total value of the shipment, which included Casodex, Seroquel, Nexium, Toprol XL and Crestor and Zomig was in excess of $500,000.

As it stands today, even with the product recovered intact and within its original containers the product will be slated for destruction because of the lost chain of custody. However there is a readily available technology solution.

The most effective way to effectively know that the lost chain of custody has not impacted the quality, efficacy or somehow adulterated the stolen medications is to look inside the sealed container to screen, verify and authenticate the product inside the package.

An ideal solution, it allows packaged drugs to remain intact and is readily available to test products once they are retrieved. This technology provides a level of confidence that the temporary loss of chain of custody has not altered the product and that public safety is ensured.

XStream System’s technology solution is the ideal solution for the pharmaceutical industry's chain of custody challenge by using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Diffraction (EDXRD). This innovative technology allows the user to molecularly screen the product inside its original container without destroying or degrading the product.

This solution transforms the process from looking at the chain of custody and/or transaction to looking inside the packaging with Molecular Screening. Ultimately, this truly provides all of the members of the supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer, the confidence to know that the medications in their inventories or supply chain are safe and efficacious.

EDXRD solutions function by matching the diffraction pattern obtained by the instrument with a library of patterns previously obtained for comparison. The EDXRD diffracted spectral patterns of crystalline substances are markedly different, even to an untrained eye. Much like a human fingerprint, although there may be a few features that are common to both patterns, they are nonetheless very different. In current iterations of the technology, which is fitted with a computer-based detection device, the system relies on a sophisticated mathematical algorithm to extract a unique feature set from the pattern and use them to identify the material giving rise to that pattern.

In general, the EDXRD methods are highly material specific, since the diffraction patterns of crystalline materials are unique. As it relates to pharmaceuticals, the signature of diffracted aspirin is very different from ibuprofen, acetaminophen, codeine, etc. Equally important is the fact that the diffracted patterns of the excipients specific to the unique recipe of the formulation are unique and one can determine differences in manufacturer, packaging, dosage, etc. For example, acetaminophen, 325mg from one vendor, will differ from acetaminophen 325mg from another vendor unless they follow the exact same recipe, density, pill configuration and utilize the exact same packaging.

This material sensitivity of EDXRD has two important ramifications - high detection/verification rates and low false alarm rates. Under ideal conditions (i.e. - low absorption and high test mass), the detection rate is close to 100% and the false alarm rate is 0.1% or lower. In addition because it uses X-Ray, EDXRD technology can penetrate through nearly all plastics, cardboard, wood and metals in order to screen the material.

XStream Systems has succeeded in establishing EDXRD as a robust Molecular Screening tool that can be used within the supply chain. XStream has conceptualized and architected the world’s first countertop EDXRD machine, the XT250 Material Identification System.

The XT250 has turned a complex technology into an easy to operate solution for the average end user.
The XT250 system is now fully deployed in drug wholesalers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical reverse logistics companies. The system is designed to be used either in a standalone or integrated capacity anywhere along the supply chain; the deployment can be in a warehouse setting and operated by a non-technical warehouse worker.

With the XT250, there no longer needs to be the very expensive and wasteful dilemma of product destruction because the product has lost its chain of custody. Because the XT250 can authenticate products non-destructively, will no longer be incumbent on the supply chain to absorb multi-million dollar losses as the threat of cargo theft proliferates.

To learn more about XStream Systems, material identification solutions, visit:

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