A leading American science magazine has listed a technology by a Pakistani scientist in its ‘World Changing Idea’ list– the magazine’s annual feature for the recognition of the world’s top ten technologies that have potential to change the world.
On November 19, Scientific American – a reputable science journal based in the United States (US) – recognised Muhammad Hamid Zaman, a Pakistani biomedical engineer, for his innovative product Pharmacheck, which was chosen by the magazine as one of the world’s top 10 technologies for its December, 2013 issue.
Every year, the magazine chooses 10 technologies that have the potential to change the world and publish this list. The selection process, Zaman told The Express Tribune, is controlled only by the journal and no one can nominate himself as they make their own selections based on the potential impact of the discovery or technology.
Pharmacheck is a technology that is able to test the drug quality and its potency in a matter of minutes, Zaman said. It is not just a scratch code to see if the packaging is right, it tests the ingredients of the drugs and whether they are in the right amount and right chemical composition, he said. “We hope to bring it to the market for commercial use within the next 12 to 18 months.”
According to the Scientific American, up to 30% of medicines in developing countries are substandard that can cause severe side effects and death. Many of these countries lack routine inspections or have scarce testing equipment. Pharmacheck, it says in its November 20th-report, may offer a portable, inexpensive and informative solution.
Though this recognition is awarded from a global perspective, the product has huge implications for Pakistan and its medicine regulation, believes Zaman who is Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Medicine and International Health at Boston University.
“I grew up in Pakistan so I have always known the challenges associated with drug quality,” the biomedical engineer said, explaining what led him to come up with this idea. “But it was two years ago that we were approached by the US Pharmacopeia and the United States Agency for International Development to address the global problem of substandard and counterfeit drugs that kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.”
Though he was already working on his product, his homeland suffered a major setback that such a product might have prevented.
“The Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) tragedy in Lahore further strengthened my resolve to do something in this regard,” Zaman said.
The 2012 PIC incident is, arguably, the biggest medical tragedy in the country’s history. As per official data, as many as 165 people died after consuming spurious drugs that PIC provided to heart patients.
While the PIC tragedy still haunts the nation’s memories, what may be even more painful is how Zaman’s requests for field tests of the product were treated by his country.
“We have demonstrated the fundamental concept of the technology and are now getting ready for field tests later this year,” Zaman said. “I would love to do this in Pakistan as well, but despite multiple requests, no one seems to be interested in addressing this comprehensively,” he said.
“Right now, we are looking at life-saving drugs, including antibiotics, anti-malarials and uterotonics – given to save mothers dying from post-partum bleeding,” Zaman said describing the drugs they will test first. “All of these have high impact in Pakistan with its high burden of disease,” he said.
Zaman said he is hopeful that the country’s drug industry and regulators would take the challenge of substandard drugs seriously and ensure public safety and public health as poor quality drugs not only kill but also inflict financial damage.
“Many of Pakistan’s challenges are also felt in other parts, so our solutions will not just impact Pakistan but many other nations and people around the world.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2013.