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UK RFID/bar code pilot study concluded

23-Feb-2005

A pilot project aimed at combating pharmaceutical fraud using a combination of radiofrequency identification (RFID) tagging and bar coding, set up by UK firm Aegate last November, has come to a close and the results should be made available on 14 March.

The three-month project, carried out by Aegate, BT and six UK pharmaceutical companies - including Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay - examined the use of the RFID/bar coding technology at the point of dispensing in 50 outlets as a way to detect fraudulent and counterfeit medicines. This is believed to be the largest pilot project of its kind involving both branded and non-branded pharmaceutical products

Unlike other RFID applications currently being tested in the pharmaceutical industry, the Authentication at the point of Dispensing pilot bypasses the complex supply chain and focuses on the authenticity of products only at the point of manufacture and at the point where they are given to patients.

This should provide an immediate gain with respect to patient protection though, if successful, could feasibly be rolled-out to other sectors of the supply chain for inventory management.

The patient safety implications, according to Aegate, are that it provides a real time check for recalled, expired, and illegal products at the unit-of-use level. Recent market developments, EU accession and changing legislation in the US have put the spotlight on the need for drug companies to authenticate their products, it said.

A spokesperson for Aegate told In-Pharmatechnologist.com that this preliminary pilot was more about assessing the reaction of UK pharmacists to the technology, rather than any assessment of the technology itself which is well proven.

"In other countries such as France, pharmacists routinely scan dispensed products, but this type of technology has not been adopted in the UK," she said. "We deliberately ran the pilot over an extended period of time - nearly four months and over the Christmas period - to see whether pharmacists would use the system reliably. Early indications are that this was the case.

Aegate managed the pilot, providing pharmacy equipment and training as well as the database application, while BT provided the networked IT services and broadband connectivity to the pharmacies. Courier company DHL distributed RFID tagged products to participating pharmacies for the duration of the pilot, and an independent advisory group is overseeing the pilot, made up of participants and representatives from the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA), the Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

Ross Hall, CEO of BT Auto-ID Services, said: "The European pharmaceutical supply chain is very complex, with drugs sometimes being traded multiple times before they reach the patient. RFID and other scanning technologies have been the subject of much discussion recently, and we believe that this pilot will demonstrate vital business benefits accruing as a result of the intelligent deployment of such technologies."

In-PharmTechnologist.com will be attending the presentation of the results of the pilot and will publish the findings in a future edition of the newsletter.

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