Tech startup waltzes with wireless giant in Africa to expand mobile anti-drug counterfeiting system

To aid an expansion in developing countries, Sproxil has nailed down a deal with mobile giant Bharti Airtel. The pact paves the way for expanding Sproxil's mobile system for authenticating drugs to 17 countries in Africa where Bharti provides wireless service.  

Cambridge, MA-based Sproxil, which has worked with drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck KGaA, has previously operated in Nigeria, Kenya and other countries with a system that allows consumers to SMS text message codes on pill bottles and receive feedback to tell them whether the meds are the real things. Yet there are technical hurdles for setting up the system in each country. With the Bharti partnership, Sproxil CEO Ashifi Gogo said in a statement, his company can move more quickly into new countries because it is working with just one telecom group.

New Delhi-based Bharti operates in 20 countries in Africa and Asia, which are two hotbeds of counterfeit drug activity globally. The World Health Organization estimates that 700,000 patients die in Africa annually as a result of taking phony anti-malarial and tuberculosis meds. And the problem costs a whopping $75 million per year.

Sabine Kopp, of the WHO's Medicines Quality Assurance Programme, told a Financial Times blog that Sproxil's MPA (Mobile Product Authentication) system was useful but is "one measure in a series of measures needed to achieve supply chain security" and "we need strong national regulatory structures which monitor which medicines are on the market and have the ability to quickly withdraw or recall products."

- here's the release
- check out the Financial Times blog