New approach to halt drug counterfeiting

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Rfid

ATS Automation Tooling has partnered with Tesa to launch a new
marking technology to combat counterfeiting of glass drug products.

Featured for the first time at Interphex New York, the Validate system uses ATS's automated laser system to permanently mark product and supply chain information, including text, logos, lines and 2D barcode matrixes, into the glass packaging of a drug, using transfer film formulated by tape and label specialists, Tesa.

"The feature of this method is that the film transfer is molecularly bonded to the glass substrate, unlike another method on the market which ablates the glass, creating airborne glass dust particles that can clog up the machinery,"​ company spokesperson, Lawrence Oldacre, told In-PharmaTechnologist.com.

"Because this method is non-ablating, the end result is very legible and can easily be read by traditional bar code readers,"​ he said.

While the technology was initially designed to combat counterfeiting across other industries, ATS have now realised its potential in protecting item-level pharma products made of glass, such as syringes and vials.

Drug counterfeiting is causing major headaches in the pharma industry, with the business of selling fake drugs burgeoning across the globe. This illegal trade is estimated to grow 13 per cent a year to reach $75bn (€62bn) in 2010, compared to just 7.5 per cent estimated annual growth for global pharmaceutical commerce, according to market research analysts Gartner and Frost & Sullivan.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been hyped up as the answer to the problem and many RFID companies are scrambling to get their processes up and running and in pilot programmes throughout the industry.

However, several hurdles still stand in the way of wide spread implementation of RFID, such as cost of the actual tags themselves and the infrastructure required to set up the technology across the entire supply chain, in addition to potential IT security concerns such as hacking and computer viruses.

"We believe this method of supply chain tracking is a more cost-friendly, user-friendly and readily readable solution than RFID and in this way, may serve as the stepping stone towards a more universal serialisation approach across the pharma supply chain,"​ said Oldacre.

"In terms of a track and trace solution, we estimates that the cost of the Validate technology will be positioned somewhere between ink jet technology and RFID tags,"​ said Rob Faulhammer, director of business development, ATS.

"Unlike RFID, the 2D barcode matrix can be read by barcode readers that are already widely available in the supply chain, thus bringing additional cost savings,"​ he said.

Another advantage of the Validate marking system is that it is non-erasable, where as some RFID tags can potentially be tampered with and removed from the products.

There is also uncertainty about their ability to withstand temperature extremes.

The company is initially focusing on the US in its roll-out efforts and is currently in discussion with "a number of interested parties."

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