A bioengineering professor from the University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside), has developed a method for preventing pharmaceutical fraud that includes nonpareils, a decorative confectionery of tiny, multi-colored balls composed of sugar and starch.

Noticing that the colorful nonpareils sprinkled atop chocolate drops included an average of 92 randomly placed nonpareils per piece of chocolate and featured eight different colored nonpareils, UC Riverside professor William Grover determined that the odds of the randomly generated candy pattern ever repeating itself are ultimately zero — meaning that each of the candies is unique and, consequently, not duplicated by chance.

Using a method that Professor Grover has dubbed CandyCode, an edible coating featuring nonpareils could potentially be applied to pharmaceutical tablets and capsules to prevent the occurrence of pharmaceutical fraud. Applied to each pill in a unique pattern or design that could be stored in a database, Professor Grover proposes that consumers could upload an image of the individual pills to be compared against the so-called CandyCode in the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s database.

To demonstrate the potential for the CandyCode concept, Tylenol capsules were coated with edible cake decorating glue and nonpareils and an algorithm was developed that converts photos of CandyCoded pills into text strings that can be stored in a computer database. Once coated and entered into the database, Professor Grover used the algorithm to analyze CandyCode photos, determining that their respective nonpareil designs could serve as universally unique identifiers, even after simulating conditions encountered during shipping that could possibly disrupt the coating designs.

"Using a computer simulation of even larger CandyCode libraries, I found that a company could produce 10^17 CandyCoded pills — enough for 41 million pills for each person on earth — and still be able to uniquely identify each CandyCoded pill," Professor Grover said.

Professor Grover further suggests that even more unique CandyCodes could be achieved by adding more colors or altering the shapes and sizes of nonpareils. Likewise, CandyCodes could also be used to secure other products, thereby ensuring the integrity and authenticity of perfumes, wines, garments or handbags by coating them in glitter for instance to act as the nonpareils do to secure pharmaceuticals.

The study, CandyCodes: simple universally unique edible identifiers for confirming the authenticity of pharmaceuticals, appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com