Monthly Archives: February 2016

EU-funded research project in support to the fight against counterfeit medicines

The fight against counterfeit medical products on the web is the result of a mix of traditional and modern methods of investigation. The EU-funded CONPHIRMER project has developed a scanner to detect the fingerprints on the illegal goods sold on the darknet.counterfeit medicinesThe EU Commission funded a research project to scan the fingerprints left by the criminals on the counterfeit medicines sold on the dark net.

The online illegal market of counterfeit medicines is worldwide growing threat. Over 950 suspected SSFFC (Substandard, Spurious, Falsely labelled, Falsified and Counterfeit) medical products have been reported on the list of the World Health Organization (WHO) as of December 2015. Even vaccines and diagnoses have been reported. On the one hand, they hurt the patient’s health. On the other hand, they undermine the trust of the victims in medical products, healthcare professionals and health system.

SSFFC products are by nature difficult to identify as they most of the time appear identical to the genuine product. The fight against SSFFC on the web is consequently becoming a new challenge for law enforcement agencies.

Modern IT technologies allow now investigators to monitor, scrap and analyze unregulated e-shops. It leads to the birth of a new generation of police officers who are able to mix old fashion investigation techniques with up-to-date ones.

These investigators generally examine the packaging, the spelling mistakes on it, the expiry dates. They also ensure the product looks correct and it is not discolored or degraded. Unlicensed websites do not always display a physical address and a landline. And the prices offered are most of the time well lower than in the regulated industry.

Still no efficient investigative method

Despite these evidence tips, it still remains often hard to detect counterfeited medicines on the web. As a result, the WHO is working with the industry and law enforcement to minimize the risks from SSFFC products. The WHO collect data and transfer knowledge and good practices to countries.

These solutions are unfortunately well far from being enough to seriously tackle this underground trafficking. “It’s like an iceberg”, said Dr Jamie Barras, a research fellow from King’s College London in February in Horizon, the EU Research & Innvovation Magazine. “The visible part of the problem is the drugs that are detected, which can run into the millions of pills every year, but what we can’t see are the drugs that go undetected.”

This unresolved problem is linked to the anonymity of the people browsing on the dark web. It includes unsearchable web pages by the current search engines. Anybody can buy there everything he wants for cheap and without any prescription. The good is then delivered by post mail. It constitutes therefore a challenge for the investigators in charge of this kind of trafficking.

Fingerprints at all the levels of the supply-chain

However, the good old investigative methods are often the best. “Drugs often go through several hands before they reach the consumer; this could be years after they are manufactured”, recalled Dr Jamie Barras. This little detail might finally help law enforcement officers in their investigations as few people handle the products and leave fingerprint on them.

That is the reason why the EU-funded CONPHIRMER consortium developed a handheld scanner to detect counterfeit medical products. It uses radio waves to detect digital fingerprint on the packages of suspicious goods in customs or post offices.

Selling counterfeit medicines on the dark web needs a very efficient supply-chain. They are normally managed by organized crime organizations in India or China. Their productions are exported through the whole world by other criminal organizations. These goods are consequently manipulated, repackaged and resold. Which leaves fingerprints on the illegal products.

The CONPHIRMER consortium gathers several members coming from European academia, national customs and companies. They beneficiate from the EU FP7.

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How important are universities in Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 can increase the collaboration of different European universities in transnational research projects. On the one hand, it needs the development of international networking platform. On the other hand, universities should set up dedicated taskforces to EU research projects.

Horizon 2020 universities
Horizon 2020 constitutes an opportunity for more transnational university projects in Europe.
Photo: Steve Cadman

As the main EU research and innovation funding program, Horizon 2020 constitutes a wide range of opportunities for European universities. This 70 billion euros scheme is running from 2014 to 2010. In this respect, the Bavarian research Alliance (BayFor) hosted the international conference “Mobilizing universities of applied sciences for Horizon 2020”, on the 4th of February in Brussels.

This event organized in cooperation with the European Commission gathered more than 150 participants from twenty European countries. It stressed the accent on the importance for academia to carry transnational research projects and the added value of networking with other researchers from other countries.

Networking for transnational research projects

Although many universities are already well used to collaborate with partners in other countries, it appears it is not always the case for many technical colleges and universities. “Their chances of obtaining EU funds for transnational projects are very good,” said Martin Reichel, CEO of the Bavarian Research Alliance. In this regard, it should be reminded that Horizon 2020 attaches more importance to practical application in the field of research than its predecessor, the Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

Networking remains the key factor for academic researchers to develop together international research and innovation projects. It can help them to identify which universities in other EU member State have a similar research pedigree. Conferences such as the one recently organized by BayFor in Brussels gives them the opportunity to present their expertise and specific project insights.

The UCL’s success story in Horizon 2020

The University College London (UCL) illustrates the opportunity Horizon 2020 is for academia. The UCL was appointed as the most performing university in the first year of the EU funding scheme Horizon 2020, according to an analysis by Research Professional. The British university secured a total of 73.2 million euros over projects. In its portfolio of successful projects, the UCL developed for instance a way to reduce congestion in Europe or studied the environmental impact from the exploration and exploitation of shale gas in Europe.

The UCL’s success is mainly based on the role played by an expert in European research matters, Michael Browne the British university enrolled. He acts as an interface between the UCL and the European Commission, national organizations and the UK government, explained the magazine Horizon 2020 Projects in its last January issue.

As a result, the UCL set up the European Research and innovation Office (ERIO) in December 2013. This office launched a proposal writing service in the wake of 2014.  It is unique in the European research organizations. “Many universities offer support at the costing or post-award stage; UCL begins right at the initial concept stage and continues through the project’s closure”, said Michael Browne.

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Funding research projects on migration for a better crisis management

Migration research
EU-funded research projects can help to anticipate the migrant crisis.
Photo: Nicola Romagna

Migration has become an increasing issue for the stability of Europe, which is likely dominating the nowadays and future policy agendas. Financing targeted research projects on migration can help to anticipate the flows of migrants and to better manage the crisis.

Research have a role to play in the migration challenge Europe has been facing for months. In this respect, the DG for Research and Innovation organized a two-day conference on the 4th to the 5th of February 2016 in Brussels. It explored how European-funded research projects in the civil society can help policy makers in their work to design sustainable migration policies.

The conference adopted a crosscutting approach, featuring findings from social sciences and economic research alongside health care needs for migrants and the link with climate change. This lead to the necessity to identify nowadays the future research needs in that fields, as well on short and long term.

That is why the European Commission intends to hear the feedbacks from the CSO’s acting on the ground. The conference gathered for instance researchers in the field of migration, several coordinators from EU-funded research projects and national policy makers.

Identification of trends

It was discussed how research could have help to anticipate the current migration crisis. Are we able to foresee the flows of migrants? If so, could have been the crisis better managed.

As a result, it is now urgent to study the future migration trends and to decide what are the short, medium and long term research needs in the migration field. In the light of the researches carried among the civil society, the EU and its member States might be able to get a better picture of the whole migration crisis. In this regard, it becomes their role to accommodate the needs of research about migration.

A long term vision through research

The European Commission has therefore supported tens of research projects and actions on migration. For example, the Cascade project conducts a comprehensive analysis of the connections between security and democracy in the Caucasus. Funded by the European Commission with 2.488.450 € from 2014 to 2017, it supports the EU’s external policies in the region.

Migration is becoming more and more a crucial issue for Europe, which is progressively dominating the policy agendas. On the one hand, the recent inflows of asylum seekers have forced policymakers to manage this emergency.  On the other hand, a long term and coordinated response is needed for a better integration of the migrants. This is the reason why research on migration constitutes a part of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). Socioeconomic sciences are consequently expected to provide a long term European vision based on reliable and comparable data.

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