Step Now, Jump Later?

RFID has caught your eye, and ours, too. Many see it as the best way to track and trace drugs as they move through the supply chain. The tags can hold a wealth of data. The stops that drugs make on their journey can often be tracked, helping ensure that they don�t take any detours. 

But as you�ll soon see in our pharmaceutical packaging roundtable, which begins on page 70, packagers are a bit concerned about RFID meeting their needs. They aren�t ready to leap into using it. Pilot programs are widespread, but many packagers are waiting for RFID to mature and come down in price.

Thankfully, these professionals haven�t put their efforts to begin tracking and tracing products on hold. You shouldn�t, either. For instance, D. Bruce Cohen, director of packaging technology for GlaxoSmithKline, and Rich Hollander, senior director of packaging services for Pfizer, both roundtable participants, argue that bar codes can be used today for what RFID may do tomorrow�track products from one point to another. But they are not putting their RFID efforts on hold. Relying on bar codes and other means for now, �We are pushing providers to meet our needs sooner. Until then, we want to keep in mind the goal�track and trace. Bar codes may get us there sooner,� Hollander says. 

Others, too, have found that it pays to find current solutions while keeping an eye out for emerging ones. Well before FDA�s bar code rule announcement, Abbott Laboratories� hospital products business, now known as Hospira, set out to better identify its 1000 injectable drug products to improve patient safety in hospitals. Laurie Hernandez, Hospira�s vice president of strategic marketing, says that her firm began by encoding the National Drug Code on each package using Code 128. �We quickly found that the code was too big for some packages, such as our 1- and 2-cm3 ampules and vials,� she says. The firm began a pilot program for using Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) by the Uniform Code Council. It proved with the help of St. Alexius Hospital and others that RSS can be used to bar code small packages. Hospira is continuing its efforts to ease drug identification. Hernandez says the next steps are adding lot codes and expiry dates and taking part in RFID pilots. 

Bayer Biological Products also didn�t wait around. When one of its own products was the victim of tampering, Bayer decided to take immediate steps. Ron Newcomb, global project director of immunology, says that Bayer developed layers of tamper-evident packaging, like branded shrink bands and seals. �We sought a practical approach and didn�t want to wait until other technologies became feasible,� says Newcomb. �We want patients to know that we are taking immediate precautions to protect them.� The head of Bayer BP�s global strategic marketing group, vice president Joel Abelson, adds that Bayer has an active program to search for other solutions. One of those technologies is RFID. �Understanding that there is no single, magic bullet, Bayer BP will look at all available options, including RFID, to ensure the safety and integrity of our products,� says Abelson.

Hernandez and Newcomb will be speaking at Trax�The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Summit, held July 21�22 in Washington, DC. For details, visit

GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Hospira, and Bayer didn�t wait for emerging solutions to catch up to their needs. They took immediate steps to begin developing approaches to tracking and tracing products. Do the same. Investigate RFID and share your needs with vendors. Rest assured that suppliers are working to perfect RFID for the drug industry. But don�t put your plans on hold. Use the tools at hand as soon as you can. 

Daphne Allen


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