Digital technologies are emerging that could be used to stop the burgeoning market in fake research reagents that are contaminating global biomedical supply chains (see Nature 545, 148–150; 2017).
The international counterfeit-drugs market is even more lucrative. Estimates of its worth ranged from US$75 billion to $200 billion last year, and it accounts for half of all medicines sold in some low-income countries (see go.nature.com/2rjwvya). This causes health problems and even death for millions of people (see go.nature.com/2s5ojzi).
Promising digital tools such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and blockchain technology can help to combat this counterfeit trading (see T. K. Mackey and G. Nayyar Exp. Opin. Drug Safety 16, 587–602; 2017). By using radio frequencies that uniquely identify an object, animal or person, RFID is highly efficient at tracking and tracing. Blockchain digitizes supply chains, enabling online verification of genuine items and protection against fakes (see also G. Chapron Nature 545, 403–405; 2017).
Strong governance across countries is needed to create the regulatory and legal frameworks necessary to incorporate such technologies into public policy.