Pfizer Combats Counterfeiters with RFID

January 12, 2006
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

Pfizer Combats Counterfeiters with RFID

Pfizer (New York, NY, www.pfizer.com) took a big leap in combating infiltration of counterfeit product into the supply chain last week when it announced that all bottles of its anti-impotence drug “Viagra” will soon include a radio frequency identification (RFID) label (tag) that allows distributors to verify the product’s authenticity.

Peggy Staver, Pfizer’s director of trade product integrity, told Pharmaceutical Technology that the product could be scanned using RFID readers at any point along the supply chain, right up until the point of dispensing. Scanned data is sent to Pfizer instantly where the product is authenticated. Staver explains that although the RFID chips are affixed to every product at the bottle level and the case and palate level, Pfizer is not pressuring distributors and pharmacists selling Viagra to immediately purchase RFID scanners. “This is just another safety measure that we offer to help make the supply chain safer,” Staver says.

Two years ago, retail juggernaut Wal-Mart (Brisbane, CA, www.walmart.com) demanded that its top 100 distributors become RFID-ready by the start of 2005. The retail industry is using the technology more for efficient inventory tracking than for security measures, however. Although it is slow to jump on the RFID bandwagon, the pharmaceutical industry was given approval by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2004 to begin piloting the new technology.

Rather than use basic prewritten RFID tags that offer zero ability to modify the digital license plate encoded on the chip, Pfizer has opted for a “TAGSYS” label that can be written to directly on the line, giving the company full control of the information on each bottle. Staver says these tags were also chosen because it allows the company more flexibility as RFID technology expands.

At this time, Pfizer is not using RFID to track and trace product through the supply chain. As the technology becomes more widely adopted, however, Pfizer says it would consider using RFID’s expanded features to further boost the company’s anti-counterfeiting capabilities.

Staver also insists that after the product is dispensed to the customer, there is no way to further track the drug or obtain personal information from the customer.

In related news, FDA will present a public workshop in Bethesda, Maryland featuring the use of RFID to combat counterfeit drugs on Feb.8–9. “Drug counterfeiting is a worldwide problem and the growing sophistication of those who make their trade in this illegal business should be a concern to all of us,” said Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs Scott Gottlieb. “Despite this widespread activity, the United States has a very safe prescription drug supply and FDA is working hard to keep it that way. FDA believes meetings like this are essential to foster and cultivate the necessary cooperation to continue to keep our drugs safe.”