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Pfizer plans Viagra tag protections

RFID programme could save Pfizer millions as it battles to reduce numbers of counterfeit ED drug

Pfizer is stepping up its fight against counterfeiting of its blockbuster Viagra by attaching radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to shipments of the drug in the US.

The company claims to be the first in the pharma industry to use RFID on such a wide scale.

Viagra was chosen by Pfizer as the first drug to be protected by RFID, as it is the most counterfeited drug in the world. The wireless tags, designed to replace barcodes as a better way for manufacturers and retailers to track and identify products, will be attached to every case and pallet shipped within the US.

Pharmacists and wholesalers will be able to retrieve the product codes stored in the tags using special readers that check product authenticity with a Pfizer database via the web.

The technology, while superior to traditional bar codes because the tags are difficult to duplicate, does have drawbacks; tag readers are expensive (expected to cost several hundred dollars) and few pharmacists or distributors have bought them.

As RFID programmes are very costly, Pfizer and indeed many critics of the technology believe it will be a number of years before it is broadly used across the industry. Pfizer is not providing financial help to distributors and hopes that US Food and Drug Administration recommendations urging the industry to use this technology will boost uptake.

The company has reportedly spent around $5m on the programme, which, for now, is limited to authenticating products at the point of sale, and does not track them through the supply chain. The firm said it would continue to explore the uses of this technology - including 'track and trace' - during the coming year.

However, for a 'track and trace' system to become a reality in the pharma industry, all elements of the supply chain must invest in compatible technology and agree to both capture and share information about the movement of products. While the financial impacts of this could arguably be offset, getting all parts of the supply chain to share data could mean the industry has to change the way it does business.

30th September 2008

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