York College’s Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniele Musumeci is an expert in many fields, but his most recent research in solid-state pharmaceuticals gives insight into the work and research being done at the College.
Musumeci said the hardest thing in the pharmaceutical industry right now is converting molecules that can cure something into a dosage form or medication. When creating new medications the important thing is making sure the molecule also referred to as API (active principle ingredient) be soluble in water. If the molecule cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream, then it cannot be placed on the market.
“If the molecule doesn’t have the right chemical group and they don’t attach to the receptors then it will not work for the disease,” says Musumeci.
One of the ways to make a molecule soluble is by turning it into an amorphous solid, changing the order of the molecules into crystals to make their bonds less susceptible to breaking.
“You want to make the molecules into amorphous solids, which will increase the solubility of the drug. The problem however with amorphous solids is that they tend to transform back into crystals,” says Musumeci.
One of his recent studies involved using x-ray diffraction to find counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs are a global threat to public health, and they undermine the credibility and the financial success of the producers of the original products says Musumeci.
Counterfeit drugs often appear in antibiotics, antimicrobials, sexual dysfunction remedies, hormones and steroids. These counterfeit drugs are affecting developing countries where drug regulations are ineffective.
“One of the most commonly known counterfeit drug is Viagra. The internet makes it easy for counterfeit drugs to be sold, because you cannot track the people who are selling it” says Musumeci.
The developments of new technologies are aimed to prevent, deter or detect counterfeit products. Some methods used to certifying the authenticity of pharmaceutical drugs include liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, capillary gas, and thin layered chromatography says scientists.
“We rely on the FDA to make sure the medications we dispense are not counterfeit,” says Tatiana K a registered pharmacist at Walgreens in Brooklyn.
However some of the new methods use to verify the authenticity of a pharmaceutical drug can be time-consuming and destructive because they require complicated sample preparation says scientist.
“In solid state chemistry there is a technique use to determine the structure of a crystal called x-ray diffraction. When we use this method to find the API or active principle ingredient,” says Musumeci.
A faster and nondestructive method to identify counterfeit drugs would be near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) which can be used to identify the active principle ingredient API experts say.
“Depending on the structure of the crystal, each molecule will have a different pattern and that pattern will allow us to determine what substances are present,” says Musumeci.
Scientists have decided to use micro X-ray diffraction method, which uses x-ray beams to read barcodes and logos in a specific pill. These codes are not visible to the naked eye scientist say.
“If someone wants to replicate the drug it will be harder to do because they cannot see the logo by eye. You can map the surface with the x-ray and you will get the diffraction pattern,” says Musumeci.
The logos placed on the pills consist of suspensions of rutile powder mixed with corn syrup and zinc oxide powder. A PDMS stamp of a particular pattern is then pressed onto a thin layer of suspension which is then transferred by contacting the substrate with the stamp under slight pressure experts say.
“The more intense the colors are during the diffraction method, the easier it if for a scientist to tell which substance is present,” say Musumeci.
While testing to see the difference between the counterfeit and the original drug scientists will use a color indicator. Both rutile and anataste forms of titanium dioxide are approved by the FDA as indicators. They are recognized as safe and are commonly used in dietary supplements experts say.
“Pills have an imprint which allows your pharmacist and doctor to know what they are, specifically your prescriptions,” says Tatiana.
Counterfeit drugs not only affect the industry economically who invest money to research new drugs, but they are also dangerous to the individual who purchase them. These drugs contain substances which are toxic and can lead to death. Oftentimes these counterfeit drugs do not treat the disease for which they were purchased scientists say.
“These kinds of illegal drug transitions are not really here in the United States, because we have the FBI. They are from other countries which are under developed,” says Musumeci.
The original drugs will have the right bar code if the drug is fake, when tested it will not have the right bar code.
“Everything that is done in a pharmaceutical environment is strictly controlled they follow certain guidelines and protocol, say Musumeci.
Musumeci advises that anyone who needs medication should go to a doctor or a pharmacy. This will make sure they will not receive the counterfeit drug or suffer from any health complications later on in life.
“Do not order pills outside of the country, it can be dangerous,” says Tatiana K the pharmacist.
A large quantity of the world’s counterfeit medicines originates in Asia and end up in the Unites states and in Europe. China is the leading country when it comes to manufacturing counterfeit drugs. It is estimated that in China between 200,000 to 300,000 people die each year because of counterfeit drug use. Counterfeit drugs kill over 700,000 people a year. Many people are dying in Africa as well experts say.
Daniele Musumeci research is supported by the National Science Foundation Chemistry Research Instrumentation and Facilities program. More information about this research can be found in the ACS publications Journal. The name of his article is Anticounterfeit Protection of Pharmaceutical Products with Spatial Mapping of X-ray-Detectable Barcodes and Logos.