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Fight against fraud

The first British pilot scheme designed to tackle drug fraud and dispensing errors has been successfully completed.

The war against counterfeit medicines in Europe has stepped up a gear following news that the first British pilot scheme designed to tackle drug fraud and dispensing errors has been successfully completed.

The three-month project, developed by Aegate, a PA Consulting Venture, involved six pharma companies including Merck, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay, which tagged 20,000 pharmaceutical packs with either a barcode or barcode and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip.

The 44 pharmacies taking part in the project across the UK scanned the products through BT's Broadband network and were able to instantly check drugs given to patients against the medication prescribed. They were also able to check whether medicines had expired and see if particular batches had been recalled or given a counterfeit warning.

ìA project such as this has to be done in small stages and this is very much the first step," said Aegate spokeswoman Alison Williams. ìBut, moving forward, we would very much anticipate that one day it will be rolled out into Europe.î

She added that the trial was more about testing whether pharmacists would accept and use the technology, rather than the effectiveness of the technology itself, which she said was well proven. ìOverall, their reaction was extremely positive,î she added.

John Peters, CEO at Solvay, said the trial demonstrated that if unique identification tagging was implemented, the authenticity of products would be protected; a move he believes pharmacists would welcome.

ìWe are keen to ensure that our customers receive the best products possible and believe the pilot has identified many opportunities to increase patient safety,î he added.

One pilot pharmacist, Fliss Davies from Cordon Pharmacy said the scanner had improved the dispensing process: ìthe extra checking step has increased our confidence that the selected item is both correctly dispensed and genuine.î

According to Aegate, 11 per cent of all hospital admissions are due to medication errors and several pilot pharmacists admitted that they worried about making dispensing errors.

During the pilot, two batches of counterfeit versions of Lilly's Cialis and Abbott Laboratories' appetite suppressant Reductil were discovered in the UK supply chain.

Drug counterfeiting is seen as a growing problem in the sector; the number of cases investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration each year has risen to about 20 since 2001 from about five in the 1990s.

The FDA has said that it wants to see widespread use of RFID tags throughout the pharmaceutical industry by 2007. It is also promising trials of a system similar to that used in the UK.

Following the success of the pilot, Aegate plans to develop the system for commercial use. The company's chief executive, Ian Rhodes said it could be launched within a year.

The question over who will foot the bill for the scheme has yet to be decided, although Aegate director of operations Andrew Gill said pharma manufacturers could expect to be a significant payer. However, Rhodes believes that the cost of implementation across the UK would be relatively small when compared to the value of the pharma industry supply chain.

30th September 2008

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