“With a decade of experience, Acumen Fund continues to invest in innovative businesses that have the potential to improve millions of lives and revolutionize emerging industries,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund. “Sproxil will help combat the multi-billion dollar counterfeit drug market, empower customers and give them the resources to make informed pharmaceutical purchasing decisions. We will also gain key insights into the dynamics and possibilities of mobile technology, an increasingly critical tool for improving the lives of billions in the developing world, which we can then share with the community at large.”
In 2008 Dr. Ashifi Gogo, a Holekamp Family Ph.D. Innovation Fellow at Dartmouth College who grew up in Ghana, founded Sproxil. He incorporated the company in 2009 with the mission to make it harder for pharmaceutical counterfeiters to operate. Counterfeit products pose a serious threat to public health and safety worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 30% of drugs sold in developing nations are counterfeit with the counterfeit drug market estimated at $200 billion by the World Customs Organization (WCO). In addition, up to 50% of some medicines in specific developing countries, including Ghana and Pakistan, are substandard. These substandard drugs - which do not have the correct potency of the legitimate drug - have led to a significant healthcare crisis both in terms of number of deaths (700,000 deaths from fake malaria and TB drugs alone) and increased drug resistance in treating diseases, which will become an issue in the longer term. In Ghana alone, local authorities working with the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) discovered fake and substandard versions of thirteen vital anti-malarial drugs spread across multiple locations in the country.
“With the counterfeit drug market on the rise in Africa, we felt the need to develop a simple, efficient and cost-effective way for customers to verify the authenticity of medication prior to purchasing them. Given the prevalence of mobile technology throughout the world, it made sense to use a technology that was already in every customer's pocket,” said Dr. Ashifi Gogo, co-Founder and CEO, Sproxil, Inc. “Acumen Fund's investment will allow us to expand our business into additional countries and improve our technology, and we look forward to working closely with them in the next phase of our growth.”
Sproxil's MPA solution allows consumers to verify that the product they are buying is genuine by using a mobile phone and a simple, free text message. Sproxil uses a scratch card method, similar to that used for replenishing cellular talk-time, to allow users to reveal a one-time-use code on drugs and text the code to a “911 for fake drugs” number which is identical on all cellular networks within a country. A response is dispatched from Sproxil's servers, indicating whether the drug is genuine or fake. If a fake product is found, a consumer is given a hotline number to call in order to report the fake product. The hotline is a Sproxil call center that currently reports the fake product to the Nigerian Agency for Food, Drug and Administrative Control (NAFDAC) for further investigation. In other countries, the counterfeit product is reported to the appropriate authorities.
Sproxil capitalizes on technologies that already exist and are readily accessible and easily understood by all levels of society - namely cellular phone SMS capabilities and scratch-off lottery-style labels. By doing so, it provides a user-friendly solution to consumers that requires minimal education and training to use.
To date, Sproxil has already sold more than 5M anti-counterfeit labels in Nigeria and has set up the first national mobile-based anti-counterfeit service in Africa, beginning in Nigeria with a partnership with the NAFDAC. Their customers include both local companies as well as global pharmaceutical companies such as GSK and Johnson & Johnson.