Cost emerges as major issue in Novartis RFID trial

By Gregory Roumeliotis

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rfid Radio-frequency identification Electronic product code

A Dutch trial of battery-powered radiofrequency identification
(RFID) tags in standard medication blister packages, sponsored by
Novartis, has demonstrated the benefits the technology can have for
patient compliance but also the prohibitive costs that need to be
overcome if RFID is to be widely adopted.

The study included 275 patients, 600 packs of Novartis's hypertension medication Diovan and 23 pharmacies in the Netherlands, seeking to establish if RFID can be used as a way to check if medication has been taken correctly.

Although the results of the trial were positive, showing that RFID technology can be integrated into the drug's packaging, the costs of the active RFID system which was developed by Swedish firm Cypak would be high if it was rolled out to a greater scale, according to the trial organisers.

Initially designed to support data collection in clinical trials, Cypak has developed a paperboard packaging with integrated microelectronics that is tailored for the desired layout and blister strips.

The packaging is programmed with customer specific data and current date and time and a factory programmed unique identity can be used to link each deployed packaging to a particular database record.

Every time a dose is pushed out of the packaging, the event is recorded and time-stamped.

Programmable reminders can be used to alert the patient to take a dose or respond to a question.

Information from the packaging can be retrieved at any time by simply placing the package onto a Cypak scanner connected to a PC and sent over the internet to a Patient OCM database (Objective therapy Compliance Measurement).

Despite MeadWestvaco having integrated Cypak's technology in its electronic compliance packaging, the cost of the technology will have to come down further if big pharma is to adopt it.

"With time, as volumes increase, the price will go down, and we believe we are heading towards £1 (€1.45) per package,"​ Cypak spokeswoman Stina Ehrensvard told

"We do not know what the next step will be, we hope to go to a larger trial."

Yet this looks unlikely as Novartis has already approved a second pilot with ECCT, a Dutch provider of electronic solutions in healthcare, who also ran the first trial with Cypak's technology platform and wrote the software.

However this time the RFID technology used will be based on ECCT tags working on an Electronic Product Code (EPC) by Philips instead of the older Siemens technology used by Cypak.

"We cannot afford Cypak's price for large trials so we turned to our own technology which we hope to have perfected by the end of 2007 and then license it to the pharmaceutical industry,"​ ECCT director Jos Geboers told

"We are very confident about the technology otherwise we wouldn't have invested so much money on it."

Indeed, ECT had to fund this second RFID trial out of its own pocket, which will include 10,000 patients and 200 pharmacies in the Netherlands.

It will start in September 2006 and use Diovan blister packs again.

Clearly, making RFID user-friendly to patients, particularly of old age, while keeping it affordable, is the biggest challenge ECCT and other companies face in the race to get their technology platform adopted by big pharma.

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