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A Farmacia Virtual

The Brazilian Virtual Pharmacy

Paulo Moretti and Antonio Carlos Zanini, MD, PhD

The Virtual Pharmacy is organized in "shelves", like in a real drugstore. The user can find information about pharmaceutical products and its manufacturers, without the need to consult pharmacists or physicians,

[ What is | Criteria | Resources | The Authors ]

The large number of pharmaceutical preparations in the market (in Brazil, a typical country, there are more than 1,500 substances, commercialized in 6,000 basic commercial products, which reach up to 15,000 different formulations and packages). require sophisticated and complex information databases and other sources, which should be ideally used by physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to write rational and safe prescriptions and to check for prescription information.

However, in many countries there are few information resources on drugs which are easily accessible by professionals and users. Sometimes, even the agencies which are responsible for certifying and recording drug information, such as the Ministries or State Secretaries of Health, are unable to provide these data in a public form. The problem is considerably aggravated by the hectic pace of new products being launched into the market, as well as by changes in the existing products, both of which may contribute to as much as 20 % of available formulations and commercial brands being updated every year. In Brazil, for instance, for many years the only source of information on pharmaceutical products was a PDR-like (Physician's Desk Reference) printed yearbook, which was (and is) produced on the basis of information sent by the pharmaceutical companies, which must pay for inserting the information into the yearbook. Thus, it is not surprising that the quality and completeness of information varies a lot from product to product.

With this scenario in mind, the Center for Biomedical Informatics of the State University of Campinas decided to implement a unrestricted-access, free-of-charge information service on pharmaceutical products via the WWW, which we called the Virtual Pharmacy.

What is the Virtual Pharmacy ?

The Virtual Pharmacy (VF) is part of a larger ongoing project, the Brazilian Virtual Hospital. Its main objective is to make available a complete database containing the pharmaceutical products which are currently available in Brazil, with abbreviated descriptions regarding the commercial brand names, active substances, manufacturers, its therapeutic classification, etc. This database can be browsed using any WWW client, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer, or searched for keywords, using an internal search engine.

The data contained ih the VF has been collected and compiled by the Zanini-Oga Group, a Brazilian company specializing on information, education and consultancy regarding the rational use of medicaments, founded and presided by one of the authors of the present paper (ACZ). The project is sponsored by Laboratórios Biosintética, a Brazilian pharmaceutical company, which pays for the licensing of the Zanini-Oga database, including its periodical update. The development and operation of the Virtual Pharmacy on the Internet has been the responsibility of the technical group of the Center for Biomedical Informatics of the State University of Campinas, coordinated by one of the authors (PM).

Access to the Virtual Pharmacy is made through the Brazilian Virtual Hospital (URL: or directly through The Pharmacy is written in Portuguese and so far there are no plans to offer it in English, Metaphorically, the VF is organized into "shelves" where the drugs are listed in alphabetical order, like in a real drugstore. The user can find information about pharmaceutical products and its manufacturers whithout the need to consult physicians or pharmacists.

Information can be found in the VF according to several views, or classifications, of the database:

In addition, there is a separate list of all pharmaceutical companies listed by the Brazilian Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (ABIFARMA), with their full addresses and contact information.

Each record of the database has the following format:

The commercial drugs which have more extensive documents available on the Internet (usually in the sites of their manufacturing companies), are hyperlinked in the VF's database, thus assuring the permanent updating of information, using a distributed database model based on the WWW.

View of the drug database by commercial brand name

View of the database by active principle

The access to the published database can be carried out according to two mechanisms:

A new search mechanism using the JAVA programming language, associated to the database, allows for searches using different combinations of fields.

Selection Criteria

One of our main concerns when planning the VF was the selection criteria to be used, regarding which drugs would be allowed into the database. The basic criterion was whether the drug was currently available in the Brazilian market. We didn't list oficially sanctioned products, only, therefore the user will find drugs listed in the FV which are currently forbidden for use in Brazil, or untested phytotherapeutic products. In some cases we had to adopt the procedure of adding the words "used as" to its therapeutic indication, in order to make a warning that there was no firm scientific evidence for its use as advertised by the manufacturer. The listing of products not endorsed or tested by the Ministry of Health does not mean that we contest this fact, but only that we are trying to provide the user with full information about products which can be found on the market, mainly due to two reasons:

Basic information about the drugs and products listed in the database were obtained from the pharmaceutical companies and from the medical literature. Therefore, we are not responsible for the veracity of this information, as usual. Since the VF is a quick and abbreviated guide to the drugs in existence in Brazil, there is only a short description of each drug, including its active principles, formulation and indication.

Pharmaceutical Resources on the Internet

See also: the list of Brazilian sites of pharmaceutical companies in the Brazilian Catalog of Internet Resources in Medicine and Health

The Authors

Paulo Moretti is a senior systems analyst and associate researcher with the Center for Biomedical Informatics of the State University of Campinas, Brazil, and is technical coordinator of the Virtual Pharmacy Project. Email:

Antonio Carlos Zanini is a physician and associate professor of Clinical Therapeutics of the Medical Faculty of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is a consultant of the US Pharmacopeia Convention, of the World Health Organization, and of the Brazilian Medical Association. President of the Zanini-Oga Group, São Paulo, Brazil. Email:

Translated and adapted by Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD. Email:

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Published by:
Nucleo de Informatica Biomedica UNICAMP
Center for Biomedical Informatics
State University of Campinas, Brazil

© 1997 Renato M.E. Sabbatini
Sponsored by:
Searle do Brasil