IBM pushes RFID for pharma

By Gregory Roumeliotis

- Last updated on GMT

IBM has unveiled a radio frequency identification (RFID) system for
the tracking and tracing of pharmaceuticals, confident it will
accelerate the adoption of the technology by the drug industry.

The system uses blended RFID software and services to automatically capture and track the movement of drugs through the supply chain, helping reduce the cash tied up in inventory, targeting recalls and enabling faster response to market demand.

Crucially, RFID makes it more difficult for counterfeit drugs to get to market, protecting consumers by helping ensure the drugs they receive match the prescription from their physician.

With nearly 8 per cent of the world's prescriptions proving counterfeit each year and drugs changing hands as many as ten times from manufacture to point of sale, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has exalted RFID as the most promising technology to ensure that the medicine in the bottle is exactly what the doctor ordered.

IBM's software and services are designed to help manufacturers protect product from theft and fraud and avoid replacement costs for product recalls and tarnished brand value.

RFID tags are embedded on products at the unit, case and pallet level, containing a unique identifier, like a licence plate, that can be linked back to descriptive product information such as dosage and strength, lot number, manufacturer and expiration date.

Electronic readers installed throughout the supply chain note the information to ensure the product is what it is supposed to be.

The IBM RFID system for pharmaceutical track and trace is based on the IBM WebSphere software platform and an architecture that allows clients to reuse existing assets, thereby building new applications quickly and at a lower cost for development.

The system forges a link with Electronic Product Code (EPC) data, since its EPC Information Service (EPCIS) serves as a communication bridge between applications and data repositories.

"IBM's extensive experience with RFID has demonstrated that this technology has unique capabilities to offer in helping protect drugs from tampering," said Paul Chang, IBM's RFID/Pharma executive.

"And in an industry that lives depend on, IBM is leading the way to a safer, more secure supply chain."

Nevertheless, due to its costs and challenges in implementation, RFID has not yet penetrated big pharma; only few companies like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are engaged in RFID trials.

Still, IBM, which already provides RFID systems for hundreds of companies, is determined to successfully bring the technology to the pharma market as well.

"We hold the security of the nation's drug supply as a top priority and have taken several leadership steps to ensure a safe and secure supply chain," said Renard Jackson, executive vice president for Cardinal Health, which is trying the technology on an undisclosed generic solid-dose drug product.

"As part of a multi-pronged approach, RFID is a promising technology that has the potential to add an additional layer of security and improve efficiency across the entire supply chain, which is why we have partnered with leaders like IBM in a pilot programme to determine its feasibility and effectiveness in a real-world setting."

IBM also offers to design customised, scalable solutions for multiple manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and warehouses to help ensure a virtually seamless fit with existing infrastructure for the rollout of an RFID project scaling from pilot to enterprise-wide implementations.

In fact, the information technology giant hopes drugmakers will choose to use its consulting and systems integration services in conjunction with its RFID system.

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