Counter the counterfeiters
Helsinki health tech startup TrueMed is on a quest to expose counterfeit medicines and medical products.
In the era of coronavirus, counterfeit medicines rear they ugly heads. Once a working vaccine is – eventually – developed against Covid-19, it will become a prime target of counterfeiters everywhere. But how do you make 100% sure that what you’re buying is the real thing? This is the challenge that Finnish startup TrueMed wants to tackle.
Tuomas Kannas, Co-founder of TrueMed, points out that, according to estimates, counterfeit medicines cause the deaths of up to 1,000,000 people every year.
“If you look at the over-all monetary loss for societies, that’s calculated in hundreds of billions of US dollars,” he says, adding that the pharmaceutical industry loses about 5% of its revenue because of the counterfeit epidemic. So far, the counterfeiters have had their day, since there has been no real method to detect counterfeit medicines and medical products – instantly, safely and cost-efficiently.
TrueMed is out to change all this. Tuomas Kannas explains that TrueMed is the first end-to-end counterfeit medicine detection service in every pocket.
“We offer an AI powered optical detection system against counterfeit medicines and medical products. What’s unique here is that it’s a non-additive solution: nothing needs to be added to the product.”
This means that pharmaceutical companies can forget about stickers, holograms and invisible inks: using a combination of machine vision and artificial intelligence, the app and the system behind it will instantly tell you if you’re in possession of the authentic article or not.
The idea for TrueMed has been cooking for a couple of years. The first push occurred in 2017, as a pulp & paper company asked for help in combating counterfeiters and TrueMed team lent a hand.
“Then that same year, a member of our team got sick while on a trip to China and needed medicine. The only problem was, he really couldn’t trust what the locals we’re selling – there was no way to verify authenticity. This experience was a classic lightbulb moment,” Kannas looks back.
Next up in TrueMed’s pipeline is focusing on vaccine protection, says Tuomas Kannas.
The team got to work planning a solution that was to be fast, efficient and portable: an on-demand service available in every mobile phone with a camera. AI could be used to cross-reference any package, pill or powder with existing production print files, as well as trace sources and routes of counterfeits and compare them to similar items that had surfaced somewhere previously.
“Our mission, from the very beginning, has been to protect people and societies from these counterfeit products,” says Kannas.
In October 2019, TrueMed Oy – the company – was officially founded. That same month, a pilot with a TOP5 global pharmaceutical company kicked off – with other pilots following in its wake.
“In addition to Big Pharma, we have work ongoing with public safety and public health players,” Kannas says, citing also good connections with World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS.
Easy-to-use health tech
From day one, the app and the system was designed to be easy to use at all levels of expertise.
“As a consequence, hospitals, medical providers, law enforcement professionals and one day even consumers can all identify harmful products with TrueMed,” Kannas says.
As the coronavirus crisis hit, TrueMed became engaged in medical product recognition; helping to make sure that, for example, face masks and coronavirus test kits were legit.
“Next up in the pipeline, we will focus on vaccine protection.”
Looking forward, Kannas believes that the company will continue to benefit from the vibrant health tech scene in Helsinki.
“The local ecosystem has a good momentum going,” he says.
In addition, Kannas perceives Health Capital Helsinki to be a key part of the current upward trend.
“Health Capital Helsinki is really a solid platform for the entire industry.”
Text: Sami J. Anteroinen
Startup Fast Facts
Product: End-to-end counterfeit medicine detection service
Founded: October 2019
Team size: 10
Target customer/market: Big Pharma, Public Safety & Public Health Organizations
TrueMed’s Advisory Board features global expertise from e.g:
- pharmaceutical supply & safety
- prevention of pharmaceutical crimes
- growth company funding
- disruptive technologies