Financial Network Disruptions in Illicit and Counterfeit Medicines Trade

About the project

Counterfeit and illegal drugs cause death or disabilities for millions of people, damage companies’ brand, undermine competition and the rule of law, cause economic losses and security threats, and corrupt financial systems. In light of the global coronavirus pandemic, there is already concern about a sharp rise in the proliferation of illicit activities concerning medical supplies. Little is known about how to identify vulnerabilities in the supply chain networks and how to coordinate responses to disrupt them. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop a multipronged approach, including access to critical data, network analysis, distributed inference, identification of strategic points of intervention, and mitigation approaches to disrupt the flow of counterfeit and illegal medicines. If a solution to effectively disrupt the illicit flow is not found, then prevention and enforcement successes will be partial, illegal entrepreneurs will adapt their modus operandi to circumvent controls, and public health, revenue, competition, the rule of law, and security concerns will remain largely unaddressed.

Intellectual Merit

Our long-term goal is to develop a system that will identify points of intervention and be used to coordinate responses of different entities to disrupt illicit flows of medicines. The goal of the planning grant is to bring together a multi-disciplinary scholarly group (criminology, computer science/AI, pharmaceutical sciences) with law enforcement (DHS), pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Sanofi), compliance and business intelligence (Thomson Reuters Special Services), NGO (Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime), and financial institutions to develop scalable solutions. Our specific objectives are: 1) construct multiplex networks (using financial, commercial and business data) for counterfeit and illegal drugs and identify potential criminal activity using the framework of criminogenic asymmetries; 2) create a distributed infrastructure for analyzing and interpreting siloed data; 3) develop prototype explainable multiplex network analysis methodologies that can be applied to distributed data; 4) propose multi-point cascading interventions combined with rapid testing to inform stakeholders. During this planning grant, we will assemble the stakeholders, develop the data infrastructure, populate this infrastructure, and conduct a pilot in two domains (a COVID-19 related vaccine or oncology drug and fentanyl supply disruption), so that we can leverage financial, commercial and business data, previous good practices (from human trafficking and trade-based money laundering controls) to effectively disrupt illegal medical supply chains, prevent or minimize the social harm they cause, and recover assets for those victimized. Our research questions are: (i) What are the multiplex networks underlying counterfeit and illegal drugs? (ii) What multiplex network parameters can be learned from current practice? (iii) How “weak-links” can be discovered in these multiplex networks to allow for catastrophic disruption? (iv) What are the most effective ways that agents (law enforcement, policymakers, service providers) can coordinate to deliver a catastrophic disruption? A better understanding of illegal supply chain networks, legal-illegal, and illegal-illegal interfaces, and computational methods identifying structural problems and vulnerabilities can be used to attack the networks to create catastrophic failures. This would pave the ground for theoretical elaborations on the causes of illegal markets and serious crime, as well as policy implications toward legal, normative, and cultural/compliance adjustments for improved preventive and regulatory frameworks.

Broader Impacts

Counterfeit drugs account for approximately $75B of a $962B global pharmaceutical market and cause well over half a million deaths annually, leading to tremendous financial loss and emergence of long-term drug resistance. In addition to addressing health, financial and security challenges calling for urgent solutions during pandemics, this collective effort is designed to introduce a new governance and social control model whereby government, private sector, and academic parties are motivated to share skills, knowledge, and data towards the solution of social problems. Rather than merely charitable contributions or social responsibility motives, all participating stakeholders benefit from the outcome by doing their job. That is, the solution to a social problem is built into the business model, which can serve in the handling of other similar challenges (e.g., corruption, terrorism, money laundering, WMD proliferation, climate change, peacebuilding).

Recent News Coverings

How to spot a counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine

As public health officials plan for widespread distribution of the long-awaited vaccines, ensuring that vaccines are authentic could emerge as an important issue. If the first round of doses are scarce—and desperation for a quick COVID-19 solution is strong—counterfeiters could attempt to capitalize on the opportunity.