Fake antibodies cause stir in Chinese market

Last week we reported on the continued fast paced growth of the Chinese antibody market, and mentioned that this has not been without its perils.

Today we’re going to take a look at the lucrative market for fake research reagents that has arisen in China and was recently exposed by science journal Nature.

Nature reports in its piece that National Institute of Biological Sciences scientist Huang Song was looking for a machine to produce hundreds of labels needed for his experiments, when a shop owner shared samples that had been made for other customers. Among these were labels that looked exactly like those on vials of expensive antibodies produced by companies such as Abcam and Cell Signalling Technology.

It became clear that people are buying cheap antibodies, getting hold of old bottles from laboratories, and are having very accurate labels made up in order to sell products on to researchers positioned as much more expensive items than they actually are.

Dr Chalmers, founder of CiteAb, said: “This is a worrying situation both for researchers and for the companies supplying quality antibodies. This type of forgery can seriously undermine a brand, and can cause significant disruption to research.

“With forgeries looking so very similar to the real deal, and generally being selected to be of a similar molecular weight so that they’re not quickly detected, researchers can be forgiven for unknowingly ending up with a counterfeit product.

“However, while we always recommend that researchers shop around to get the most cited and validated product, there are other ways that they can protect themselves from fake products.”

Some suggestions include:

  • The researcher mentioned in Nature’s article, Huang Song, suggested that by centralising ordering for an institute’s antibody use you can ensure products are fully researched and purchased from reputable suppliers, and that empty bottles are collected up and destroyed and don’t find their way into disreputable hands.
  • If the price of a product seems too low, then it probably is. While you can get good deals from shopping around, watch out for too-good-to-believe deals.
  • If you suspect a forgery contact the company you thought you were ordering from – many of the large antibody suppliers now have resources available to help you determine the difference, and have opened enquiry lines for researchers who suspect fakes.

Dr Chalmers adds: “We’re always very concerned to hear of any practice in the antibody industry that undermines the ability of researchers to carry out good quality work. While this latest battle impacts researchers in China, this could potentially happen in any market, particularly emerging and fast growing ones.
“It is heartening to see individuals such as Huang Song, along with the wider community, pull together to tackle a challenge like this head on.”

To read more about Huang Song’s efforts see the Nature article here.

– Matt and the CiteAb team

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