FDA Counterfeit Detector to Aid Battle Against Malaria

By: Deborah M. Autor, Esq. and Melinda K. Plaisier

Deborah M. Autor

Somewhere right now, malaria patients facing a life-threatening illness are being treated with counterfeit or substandard anti-malarial drugs, including falsified products, that threaten their recovery and can contribute to drug resistance. We are proud to announce the Food and Drug Administration’s launch of a partnership that will use a clever, innovative tool invented by FDA scientists to quickly and cheaply test suspect counterfeit or substandard anti-malarial drugs, including falsified products. The partnership will test the effectiveness of this hand-held, battery-operated tool, called Counterfeit Detection Device, Version 3, or, simply, CD-3. It will be deployed first in Ghana and then, after data is collected, in a second testing region.

This effort, which we hope will expand worldwide, is aimed at catching products that both deprive people of critical, life-saving help and add to disease burden because substandard doses can lead to drug resistant strains of the malarial parasite.

Melinda K. Plaisier is FDA’s Acting Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs

Melinda K. Plaisier

Malaria kills more than a 660,000 people each year, mostly children. It is most prevalent in Africa and Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, more than a third of anti-malaria drugs are counterfeit or substandard, and a recent review indicates that number might be as high as two-thirds.

CD-3 is the brainchild of FDA scientists Nicola Ranieri and Mark Witkowski of FDA’s Forensic Chemistry Center (FCC), who recognized that since substances have unique responses to light, they might be able to develop a portable tool that could identify counterfeits on the spot, even in remote locations. As the initial tool has undergone a number of revisions, capabilities have been added, applications have been developed, and CD-3 has become a more powerful tool. From prototypes, scientists at FCC built a number of CD-3s, which are currently being used in the U.S. at ports and international mail centers, and during criminal investigations at the FCC.

To gear up for a global deployment strategy, FDA has separately signed a letter of intent with Corning, Inc., to optimize the tool, using information gathered from the studies in Ghana and the second testing region. FDA is hopeful that the improved tool will eventually be manufactured for use around the world.

The CD-3 tool contains a library of information about authentic drugs and the packaging they come in. It allows the user to compare authentic images of a product with the suspect product, instantaneously showing clear differences between suspect and authentic products that would not have been clear to the naked eye.

The Unites States Pharmacopeia, with funding through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Malaria Initiative, currently conducts drug surveillance programs at the test sites where CD-3 will be tested. FDA is providing ten CD-3s in the first test, and technical support will be provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The non-profit Skoll Global Threats Fund is providing additional funding for the initial testing in Ghana.

We are thrilled about these developments and proud of this important, multi-sector collaboration and our highly dedicated staff who are making it possible. It is a credit to them, to our partners, and to all of FDA, that they are able to bring this innovative solution to such a significant global public health problem.

To learn more watch the CD-3 video below and read the Consumer Update: FDA Invention Fights Counterfeit Malaria Drugs

Deborah M. Autor, Esq., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

Melinda K. Plaisier is FDA’s Acting Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs

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