Georgian chemists have developed a rapid method to detect fake Tamiflu, the drug used to treat bird flu.
The new method known as Desorption Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometer (DESI-MS) has the potential to detect counterfeit Tamiflu drugs 20 times faster than current methods.
Tamiflu has become a target for counterfeiters after the recent outbreaks of bird flu and increased public demand for supplies of the antiviral drugs in case of an epidemic of the deadly disease.
"It's a one-step process that doesn't require any extensive sample preparation," said Facundo M. Fernandez, of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The DESI-MS analysis of the Tamiflu powder can yield results in less than one minute.
"The "gold standard" for gauging pharmaceutical quality control is a powerful but much slower method called high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)," he said.
"This method is really targeted at screening large amounts of products that might be expected during a pandemic of influenza. In case of a crisis, you wouldn't be able to wait an hour per sample. You'd want to screen hundreds of samples per day," he added.
Fernandez tested DESI-MS's effectiveness by collecting different Tamiflu samples from online pharmacies and found all of them to contain the active ingredient.
Customers who purchase from online pharmacies have to be cautious, Fernandez said.
"What you get online can be pretty much anything. It's very easy for the counterfeiter to bypass the system that's in place to protect the consumer. And it's very easy for the consumer to get medications," he said.
Fernandez believes that they would be able to solve the problem of fake Tamiflu.
"I think it's possible to shut down this traffic, but it will require new tools and new approaches. We need to get very creative because the incentive for making fake drugs is huge," he said.