Chinese researchers develop on-dose QR codes

QR codes on pillsResearchers in China have developed 3D ingestible QR codes that can be applied to pharmaceutical dosage forms such as tablets and capsules.

The codes - laser engraved onto polymer excipient sheets and applied to dosage forms as a film-based label - have been put through their paces by the scientists at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, who say they can be authenticated in the field using a QR code reader on a smartphone.

The polymer-based labels can be bonded onto the surface of tablets or be incorporated into capsules, and were shown to have no impact on the bioavailability of several compounds including aspirin, glucose, glucuronolactone and ziprasidone hydrochloride. It is even possible to incorporate drug ingredients within the labels, they note.

The researchers were able to demonstrate that the codes could be read effectively using a QR code reader app on an iPhone.

"Although printing anti-counterfeiting codes on the pharmaceutical package or blister card is possible and applicable, replacing them with fake ones is still a piece of cake for criminals," note the authors.

Labelling each pill prevents counterfeiters from placing fake medicines in genuine packaging, they note, and "makes point-of-care testing convenient with smartphones."

The technique has advantages over some other on-dose authentication technologies, which in some cases rely on fluorescent materials or micro-taggants that have to be separated from dosage forms and analysed in the lab, according to the scientists.

However, more research will be needed before the technique is ready to be applied at full commercial-scale production speeds.

The research is published in the journal Materials Science and Engineering: C (Vol 63, 1 June 2016).

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