Computing giant IBM has launched a new electronic system to track medications through the supply chain until they reach consumers.
The system employs radio frequency identification (RFID) tags which are already used to monitor packages of drugs, especially ones popular with counterfeiters.
Pfizer uses RFID chips to track packs of its impotence drug Viagra® (sildenafil citrate), and Purdue Pharma has been using them since 2004 to monitor shipments of its pain reliever OxyContin® (oxycodone).
IBM’s ePedigree system helps drug companies create electronic certificates of authenticity for individual bottles as they move from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies and hospitals.
It is the latest bid by technology firms to beat counterfeiters, after previous attempts such as holograms and watermarks on bottles were often quickly reproduced.
Chris Clauss, director of sensor information management at IBM Software, said: “The whole time, the system is watching what’s happening – it records the drug’s life history.”
And while there is no guarantee that RFID tags will permanently put the counterfeits out of business, he hopes it will make it substantially more difficult for the criminals by helping to “raise the bar”.
Michael Liard, research director at specialist R&D analysis consultancy ABI Research, said IBM’s system will not only prove to be a useful tool for battling fake drugs in the US, but will also help keep track of expiry dates and batch numbers in case a drug needs to be recalled.
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