Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 03, 2024

Combating Counterfeit Drugs: The EMA's Role in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain


The pharmaceutical supply chain plays a crucial role in ensuring the availability of safe and effective medicines for patients across the European Union (EU). However, the rise of substandard or falsified drugs poses a significant threat to public health. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is at the forefront of efforts to address these vulnerabilities and safeguard the integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Regulatory Framework and Oversight

The EMA operates within a comprehensive regulatory framework designed to ensure the quality, safety, and efficacy of medicines in the EU. This framework includes robust measures to combat the entry of substandard or falsified drugs into the supply chain. Regulatory oversight by the EMA and national regulatory authorities is critical in detecting and preventing such threats.

The EMA collaborates closely with its EU partners through the European regulatory network, which allows for the exchange of information and coordination of efforts to address common challenges. This network enhances the capacity to identify and respond to potential risks associated with substandard or falsified drugs.

EMA's Role in Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is a cornerstone of the EMA's mission. The agency works in collaboration with pharmaceutical manufacturers, regulatory authorities, and other stakeholders to establish and enforce high-quality standards throughout the supply chain. This includes Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) inspections to ensure that manufacturing facilities comply with stringent quality standards.

The EMA also encourages the use of advanced technologies, such as serialization and track-and-trace systems, to enhance the traceability of medicines from production to distribution. These technologies provide a powerful tool for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in the supply chain.

Collaboration with International Partners

Recognizing that substandard or falsified drugs are not limited to geographical boundaries, the EMA actively engages with international partners. Collaborative efforts with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) allow for the exchange of information and best practices on a global scale.

International cooperation strengthens the ability to identify and respond to emerging threats, share intelligence on potential risks, and develop harmonized approaches to combat substandard or falsified drugs.

Pharmacovigilance and Rapid Alert System

The EMA places a strong emphasis on pharmacovigilance, the science and activities related to the detection, assessment, understanding, and prevention of adverse effects or any other drug-related problems. The agency operates a robust pharmacovigilance system that monitors the safety of medicines once they are on the market.

In the event of suspected substandard or falsified drugs, the EMA utilizes the Rapid Alert System to facilitate the timely exchange of information between member states. This system enables quick and coordinated actions to mitigate potential risks and protect public health.

Capacity Building and Training

The EMA is committed to enhancing the capabilities of regulatory authorities and stakeholders involved in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Capacity building and training programs are conducted to ensure that professionals across the industry are well-equipped to identify, prevent, and respond to the challenges posed by substandard or falsified drugs.

These programs cover a range of topics, including risk assessment, inspection techniques, and the implementation of quality management systems. By investing in the expertise of individuals involved in the supply chain, the EMA contributes to building a resilient and proactive regulatory environment.

The ARTiFACTS Verify platform offers an integrated approach to identifying -substandard and falsified drugs that have entered the pharmaceutical supply chain:

  • Identification of suspect medicines through on-site testing at any point in the supply chain using paper analytical device technology that is cost-effective and requires minimal training.
  • Confirmation of the properties of medicines failing the initial test through further testing at specialist labs, using advanced scientifically recognized techniques, including high-performance liquid chromatography, mass spectroscopy, among others.
  • Organisation of all data captured for managing workflows, analysing and reporting results.
  • Coverage of over half of WHO's 600 Essential Medicines.

Enhanced data security by recording results on a purpose-built blockchain provides an immutable record of test results, including active pharmaceutical ingredients, product origin, manufacturer and other data essential for effective intervention.


The EMA's multifaceted approach to addressing vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical supply chain reflects its commitment to ensuring the safety and efficacy of medicines for patients within the EU. Through regulatory oversight, international collaboration, quality assurance measures, pharmacovigilance, and capacity building initiatives, the EMA is actively working to identify and counteract the threat of substandard or falsified drugs. As the pharmaceutical landscape evolves, the EMA remains vigilant, adapting its strategies to stay ahead of emerging challenges and protect public health. For the latest and most accurate information, readers are encouraged to visit the EMA's official website and consult reputable sources within the pharmaceutical and regulatory communities.

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