While most of us baked sourdough bread and watched “Tiger King” to stay sane during the pandemic shutdown, William Grover, professor of bioengineering at UC Riverside, kept busy counting the colorful candy sprinkles perched on chocolate drops. In doing so, he discovered a simple way to prevent pharmaceutical fraud.
The technique, which he calls CandyCode and uses tiny multi-colored candy nonpareils or “hundreds and thousands” as a uniquely identifiable coating for pharmaceutical capsules and pills, is published in Scientific reports.
Counterfeit or substandard drugs harm millions of people and cost an estimated $200 billion a year. In the developing world, the World Health Organization estimates that one in 10 medical products are fake.
Grover’s lab has previously worked on simple and inexpensive ways to ensure the authenticity of pharmaceuticals. Other researchers have been interested in putting unique codes on pills that can be used to verify their authenticity, but all of these schemes have practical limitations.
“The inspiration for this came from the little colored chocolate candies. Each candy has an average of 92 randomly attached nonpareils, and the nonpareils have eight different colors. I started wondering how many different patterns of colored nonpareils were possible. on these candies,” Grover said. “It turns out that the chances of a randomly generated candy pattern repeating itself are basically zero, so each of these candies is unique and will never be duplicated by chance.”
This gave Grover the idea that nonpareils could be applied as a coating to each pill, giving it a unique pattern that could be stored by the manufacturer in a database. Consumers could upload a picture of a pill to their smartphone and if its CandyCode matches the one in the database, the consumer could be sure that the pill is genuine. Otherwise, it is potentially fraudulent.
To test this idea, Grover used edible cake decorating glue to coat Tylenol capsules with non-pareils and developed an algorithm that converts a photo of a CandyCoded pill into a set of storable text strings. in a computer database and queried by consumers. He used this algorithm to analyze a set of CandyCode photos and found that they functioned as universally unique identifiers, even after subjecting the CandyCoded pills to physical abuse that simulated wear and tear from shipping.
“Using a computer simulation of even larger CandyCode libraries, I discovered that a company could produce 10^17 CandyCoded pills – enough for 41 million pills for every person on earth – and still be able to identify many unique way each CandyCoded pill,” Grover mentioned.
Even more unique CandyCodes could be created with the introduction of more colors or by combining different sizes or shapes of non-parallel candies. CandyCodes could also be used to guarantee the authenticity of other products that are often counterfeited. Bottle caps, for example, could be coated with adhesive and dipped in non-pareils to ensure the integrity of perfume or wine, and hangtags on clothing or handbags could be covered in glitter.
CandyCoded capsules or tablets also have an unexpected benefit for the consumer.
“Anecdotally, I found CandyCoded caplets to be more pleasant to swallow than regular caplets, confirming Mary Poppins’ classic observation about the relationship between sugar and medicine,” Grover said.
Source of the story:
Material provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Holly Ober. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.