Stage 2 E-Team Grantees

Recipient Institution: 
Boston University
Principal Investigator: 
Muhammad Zaman
Grant Amount: 

A device to quickly and accurately screen medicines in the developing world to find out whether or not they're counterfeit.

See the video here:

The team: PharmaCheck – Awarded $18,500

The team members:

  • Darash Desai, graduate student in Biomedical Engineering
  • Andrea Fernandes, graduate student in Public Health

Principal investigator:
Dr. Muhammad Zaman, Associate Professor, Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Medicine

Boston University

The innovation:
A portable detector for screening counterfeit and substandard medicines for use in developing countries.

The problem:
The top 10 causes of death in developing regions are responsible for 5.25 million deaths each year. Eight of every 10 of those deaths are treatable or preventable with the effective use of quality medication. Unfortunately, 50 percent of medicines distributed in developing countries are either counterfeit or significantly sub-standard in quality. These counterfeit drugs typically contain none of the active ingredient required for that specific drug, such as acetaminophen in Tylenol. The production and distribution of these counterfeit medicines is a deadly and complicated trend. Furthermore, pharmacies are less regulated in developing countries, with almost all drugs accessible for purchase over the counter.

The solution:
PharmaCheck is developing a mobile, user-friendly medical screening tool to quickly and easily check the quality of drugs in developing countries. To test a medication, the user simply places a pill into a small testing box, which then instantly reports the amount of the active ingredient found in that pill. This tool will allow regulatory authorities, NGOs, hospitals and pharmacies, as well as other individuals or organizations working in the healthcare field, to dramatically improve the delivery of quality drugs to patients in need and the overall health of these developing regions.

The future:
PharmaCheck is currently finalizing its first physical prototype. Once completed, the team plans to work with their contacts at U.S. Pharmacopeia -- a scientific organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality and purity of ingredients in medicines and foods worldwide -- to take the prototype to Ghana for hands-on testing in the field. Following extensive physical testing of the prototype, PharmaCheck will make any necessary changes and begin examining the medicine supply chain in developing regions to zero in on the points at which quality medicine is either interfered with, and/or when and where counterfeit products are introduced into the supply chain. The end goal is for an array of users in the healthcare field to be able to effectively and easily control the quality of medicine delivered to patients.

Tips for student innovators:
According to Darash, “Our number one tip to upcoming innovators is to understand the problem at hand. Particularly in the area of global health and development, the parameters of your innovation will depend upon very specific needs. Once you understand your problem, focus and tackle it by giving it 100 percent of your effort, instead of trying to take on multiple problems with half your effort.”

Andrea adds, “In the early stages, it’s really useful to go through thought experiments to fully understand your problem and develop the appropriate solution. For example, think about questions like: Who would be the user? Why? What is the cost, both to the manufacturer and the user? Where and how would the product be supplied? These and other questions are important to turn your big-picture business strategy into a sustainable business venture.”