Drug companies test RFID on pharma bottles

A group of pharmaceutical manufacturers has revealed that it began shipping bottles of prescription medications with radio-frequency identification tags July 12.

The drug makers include Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Procter & Gamble, and participating distributors include Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp. The goal is to track the bottles from the packaging line to distribution centers to distributors, to retailers’ distribution centers, and finally to CVS and Rite-Aid retail pharmacies.

The test, called Project Jumpstart, will continue until September, when results will be evaluated and published through industry trade groups. This project uses track-and-trace technology provided by RFID chip maker Matrics and supply-chain software vendor, Manhattan Associates. Accenture is an advisor and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is also involved.

In the test, five drug makers are each applying RFID tags to bottles of two types of medications for a total of 10 products. Specific drug names were not disclosed. The manufacturers chose larger bottles used by pharmacists to fill patient prescriptions so the RFID tags wouldn’t block information printed on labels.

The goal is to determine if RFID tags can replace paper “pedigrees” that some states are beginning to require. The U.S. Senate is considering similar measures as part of the drug importation debate. “Paper pedigrees aren’t going to be workable in our environment,” says Ron Bone, senior vice president of distribution support at McKesson. The use of RFID “is a way to make pedigree [mandates] workable and make the supply chain secure.”

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