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GlaxoSmithKline Tests RFID on HIV Drug

In a pilot project involving the HIV medication Trizivir, the company is testing its ability to commission and later read RFID tags, which could be used to verify the drug's authenticity.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Once the label is placed on the bottle, an RFID interrogator mounted on the label applicator verifies that the inlay is functioning and can be read. The tagged bottles are placed in a 48-bottle case, labeled with an ultrahigh frequency RFID inlay. The sealed case is then sent through a tunnel mounted on a conveyor system. Interrogators inside the tunnel read the unit-level tags, as well as the case tag, and feed the data into the IBM middleware, which marries each bottle ID number with that of the case tag. The software also associates the batch data, such as lot number and expiration date, with each EPC.

The cases are then palletized and shipped to GSK's distribution center, where the tags are read, as are the bar codes on the cases and pallet, in accordance to GSK's existing warehouse management system. Once received into the DC inventory, the pallets of Trizivir are broken down and again run through a tunnel so the case and item tags can be read. The cases are then put into inventory at the DC.

After GSK pulls products to fill orders, a conveyor system directs the cases to shipping stations based on destination. GSK has added a tunnel reader over this conveyor system that reads the tags embedded in the bottles and cases of Trizivir. If GSK ever opts to tag its other products, it will read those tags, as well. As the readers capture the tag data, the IBM middleware collects it and associates it with the order information. The products are then palletized and shipped to wholesalers.

Paul Chang, IBM's associate partner of business consulting services, says the IBM middleware can integrate GSK's RFID system with those of its customer, if GSK chooses to do such integration projects in the future.

Coyle says the Trizivir pilot will run for six months, and that GSK has had discussions with its wholesale partners. Some of them, he notes, have shown interest in participating in the pilot by deploying an RFID infrastructure to capture the RFID tag data from the items and cases. This step would be required to test RFID's ability to authenticate the drug beyond GSK's internal supply chain. The drugmaker is prepared to provide the EPC, batch and order data collected during the pilot to any of its wholesale partners that participate in the pilot. The wholesalers would use the data to establish an electronic chain of custody, or e-pedigree, to verify that the drugs received are authentic. While the FDA has not mandated the use of an electronic pedigree to track and authenticate drugs, individual states have passed legislation requiring it—though not necessarily through the use of RFID.

At the end of the six-month trial, GSK will decide whether or not to continue the pilot. The firm will base its decision on the results of the pilot, on any standards development that might take place during the next six months, and on the status of any other pilots its wholesalers might launch in order to piggy-back on the GSK tagging pilot.

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