4 Ways Technology is Making Pharmaceuticals Safer

When I think of innovation in pharmaceuticals, I think of the work that goes on in a lab for years, sometimes decades, to create a groundbreaking drug. But the innovation doesn’t stop once that drug leaves the lab. There are loads of inconsistencies and problems that occur once a drug is on the market that need to be solved.

Below are four notable innovations in the PharmaTech pipeline.

Adverse Reactions

According to the FDA, serious adverse drug interactions could kill more than 100,000 hospitalized people in the US every year. But traditional ways of avoiding such interactions during drug development require expensive and laborious physical testing and clinical trials to catalogue all the proposed drug’s possible chemical interactions with existing ones.

Karen Hao, MIT Tech Review

Naturally, researchers have pinpointed the applicability for AI to make this process of finding and avoiding adverse drug reactions.

The process starts by converting a drug’s chemical compound into language that a computer can understand. It then scours a database of known chemical interactions with that drug to spot any possible reactions. They cross-reference these results with the list of drugs the patient is taking. And ideally, they end up with a roadmap for the safest medication treatment.

IQVIA, who’s leading this research, believes this type of predictive AI could make a great collaborative tool at hospitals and pharmacies everywhere.

Fake Drug Scanner

Counterfeit drugs have a major impact globally but are especially felt in developing countries where one in ten drugs sold is fake or substandard.

In Africa, the counterfeit drug trade is a $30 billion operation. The World Health Organization estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, between 64,000 and 154,000 people die per year from taking fake anti-malaria medications.

Eillie Anzilotti, Fast Company

RxAll created a nanoscanner that pharmacies can use to spot counterfeits before they distribute them to patients.

RxAll designed and built–with the help of data scientists at Yale–a handheld authenticator that analyzes the particular infrared wavelength that a drug emits. Each drug has its own unique “spectral fingerprint” that indicates which chemical compounds are present, and at which quantities.

Eillie Anzilotti, Fast Company

Over the course of 12 years, they’ve brought the price of this device down from $20,000 to $1,000 – making it more accessible in countries that could really benefit from it but don’t have the funds to do so.

But there’s more than one way to skin this cat.

Edible Security Tags

Looking at the same counterfeit drug problem, researchers at Purdue are working on a PUF (physical unclonable function) that they can embed on each and every pill to help pharmacies and consumers verify a drug before they take it.

Kim’s group is the first to create an edible PUF—a thin, transparent film made of silk proteins and fluorescent proteins genetically fused together. Because the tag is easily digestible and made entirely of proteins, patients can consume it as part of a pill or tablet.

Kayla Wiles, Futurity

This edible security tag, unique to each pill, acts as a “fingerprint”. They’re creating a smartphone app to go along with it which would allow pharmacies and consumers an easy way to check their medicines.

Drug Diversion

Prescription medications have a tendency to sprout legs and walk off. It’s called drug diversion. In other words, staff members steal drugs. Around 10% of healthcare workers will divert drugs during their careers. And it’s one of many things feeding the Opioid Epidemic.

A major roadblock in solving this problem is the overwhelming denial of it:

The majority of providers surveyed (85 percent) were concerned about drug diversion in U.S hospitals, but only 20 percent believe diversion is cause for concern where they work.


BD is one company working on a solution. The BD HealthSight™ platform is designed to triage where drug diversion investigations are needed. Supported by Microsoft, the system utilizes machine learning algorithms to monitor dispensing behaviors – overrides, canceled transactions, dispensing delays, administering medications, and wasted medications – helping identify suspicious activity.

Invistics has a similar plan of action, except they analyze behavioral data across the entire supply chain.

Pharmaceutical safety is something that impacts nearly every person on the planet. Seeing innovation here is encouraging for the future of treatment.