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Aegate to Track Drugs in U.S., Belgium

Currently utilized by some U.K. pharmacies, the RFID-based system is being tailored for use in other countries.
By Jonathan Collins
Dec 02, 2005Aegate, a U.K. company that has created a bar coding and RFID system to track pharmaceuticals at the point of dispensing, is developing versions of its system for the United States and Belgium markets. Several pharmacies in the United Kingdom are currently using Aegate's system. Now, the company is in the process of adapting the system to different dispensing techniques and packaging requirements of other countries.

"The U.K., U.S. and Belgium are three very different markets," says Alison Williams, communications manager at Aegate, based in Cambridge. In the United States, for example, drugs are more frequently dispensed from bulk containers, rather than the individual packets used and tagged for Aegate's U.K. deployment. In Belgium, drug companies already have to put serialized labels on each product package or container.

Whatever the format, Aegate's multiprotocol scanner can read an item's RFID tag and its printed bar code.
That level of tracking is not being used by the nation's drug companies, but rather by the government-run health insurance system, in order to ensure the drugs it pays for are properly dispensed.

Aegate claims its initial implementations in the United States and Belgium will not be tests of the technology, but the beginnings of a commercial system. "These won't be pilots; they will be very controlled rollouts," says Williams, adding that the technology has already completed its trial phase in the United Kingdom.

In October 2004, Aegate launched a pilot system in the United Kingdom involving 44 pharmacies and six drug companies. These included Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay (see Six U.K. Drugmakers Pilot RFID). That three-month trial ended in early 2005, but Aegate says 10 pharmacies have continued to use the system. In early 2006, he added, it will announce details of the initial deployments of its system in the United States and Belgium, along with partner companies. Aegate expects its initial deployments to become operational in the first quarter of 2006 in the United States, and later in the year in Belgium. The exact timing, however, is dependent on the needs and desires of the participating drug manufacturers.

To track pharmaceutical items, drugmakers apply an RFID tag or bar-coded label, encoded or printed with a unique serial number, to each drug container. They then scan the tag or label to link the serial number to the item's product data, including such information as the item's expiration date. This data is stored in a database managed by Aegate. A pharmacist later uses a multiprotocol reader to scan the item again before handing it to a patient. Once deployed at the pharmacy by Aegate, the multiprotocol scanner can read an item's RFID tag or its printed bar code, regardless of the format the bar code uses (EAN 128, Datamatrix 2D or RSS 14). The Aegate reader can read ISO 15693 and ISO 14443 13.56 MHz RFID tags.

Aegate will charge drug companies and pharmacies a fee for access to its services and the use of the multiprotocol scanners.
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