Solution to supply chain issues encoded in barcode

By Katrina Megget

- Last updated on GMT

A magic bullet for the pharmaceutical supply chain has entered the
stage as radio frequency identification (RFID) technology attempts
to fix up its teething problems.

American companies Secure Symbology (SSI) and the former Pharmaceutical Technology and Services (PTS) group of Cardinal Health, now privately held by the Blackstone Group, have developed a next generation bar code that has anti-counterfeiting and track and trace technology. In the from of a standardized bar code, the technology contains a confidential, encrypted database of a product's packaging and shipment history, the information of which can be obtained through a secure software application and the use of a simple, every-day barcode scanner. In the light that RFID, the hotly-tipped favourite in the race to protect the pharmaceutical supply chain, has yet to fully mature and offer foolproof protection and identification of genuine pharma products, the new bar code is the next best thing for the supply chain, if not better, according to the creators. "Clearly today, it is the best solution,"​ Secure Symbology director Kamal Mustafa told in-PharmaTechnologist.com. The advantages of the bar code are two-fold: it not only meets the ever-changing regulatory standards set for the supply chain, but it also acts as an anti-counterfeiting device at the same time, Mustafa said. The technology works by placing a bar code on every individual package so that each package, combined with its supply chain history, has a unique number. This information is then hashed so that it is meaningless to hackers and is sent to a central database. Meanwhile, a separate database with the information is set up for the manufacturer. As the product moves through the supply chain and is scanned along the way, the information links to the central website and is cross referenced and verified with the manufacturers' database. The genius lies within the unique numbers each product is given, Mustafa said. If a number for a fake product comes up via the scan it will instantly be identified, as the genuine number will already be in the database. This makes it virtually impossible for counterfeiters to fake a whole batch of products. The technology will also be useful for double checking expiry dates on products and for tracking recalls. Even the consumer can check the safety of their products by logging onto a website to cross reference the barcode digits and the product's status. Mustafa said he was "ecstatic"​ with the end product after four years of testing and refining. "RFID still has to reach a standard and solve its privacy issues. There is nothing like this [barcode] out there. People are recognising in the States that RFID is not quite working."​ Mustafa was especially pleased the technology could be applied to the area of biologics, which represents a significant portion of high value drugs which are often counterfeited. Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved RFID for use on biologics until further work can be done to ensure that the radio wave transmission does not affect the product. But while Mustafa sung the praises of the barcode, he acknowledged it had one disadvantage - for the technology to work, line of sight of the product is required, which means opening crates, whereas RFID can achieve tracking without having to touch the crates. "But beyond that, we have got RFID beat." ​ However, Mustafa said that while the barcode worked independently, it could just as easily work in conjunction with RFID once that technology had been refined. PTS vice president and general manager of global packaging solutions Renard Jackson said he believed the new technology had a clear advantage over competing barcode technologies and planned to expand the use of the technology with PTS manufacturing partners. "SSI's track and trace system, is a complete, immediately deployable solution that includes a means of adding additional layers of security such as RFID (radio frequency identification). "While we don't necessarily expect this technology to replace the future use of RFID, the technology offers a cost-effective, secure, 'turnkey' anti-counterfeiting system that will track and trace pharmaceuticals at every stage of the supply chain,"​ he said. The technology is designed to easily integrate into the production line while most existing scanner technology at pharmaceutical dispensing locations would be able to read the serialized barcodes. In the meantime, US firm Vardex Laser has developed a new machine which imprints a 5X5 matrix security code onto tablets and capsules using a high speed laser and can be read by a hand-held scanner. According to the company, the technology offers a security solution that makes counterfeiting protected products "virtually impossible".​ The counterfeit drug market is forecast to hit $75bn by 2010.

Related topics: QA/QC, Drug Delivery

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