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RFID Tag Built to Survive Gamma Rays

AdvantaPure says its passive, high-frequency GammaTags can withstand the radiation used to sterilize the polymer bags employed by drug manufacturers—without losing data.
By Beth Bacheldor
Soon thereafter, AdvantaPure recognized the need for an RFID tag impervious to gamma rays, and started to develop its GammaTag. The need for such a tag arose largely because pharmaceutical and biomedical industries have been switching to disposable polymer bags to mix drug ingredients, in place of stainless-steel vessels. The bags come in multiple sizes and incorporate a wide variety of tubing, hoses, filters, clamps and fittings. "You put these bags into a housing, put in all your ingredients, and after a while you have a pharmaceutical," says Baker.

Prior to use, these polymer bags must first be sterilized with gamma rays, which have a very high energy content and can penetrate dense materials, causing serious damage when absorbed by living cells. To protect the chips from gamma radiation, AdvantaPure uses a proprietary application of existing technology. The company declined to divulge any further details, though Jeff Johnson, director of software solutions at AdvantaPure, says the tag does not store the data in magnetic format. "If it were in a magnetic format, there's the potential for the gamma ray to destroy the data," Johnson says.

With the GammaTag affixed to the disposable bag, companies can encode the tag's 2 kilobytes of memory with a variety of information about the bag. This includes who made the bag and when it was made, as well as data about the bag's tubing, hoses, filters, clamps and other associated components. Once the bag is sterilized via gamma radiation, information about that process—such as who did the procedure, when and where—can also be encoded into the chip.

The encoded tag, as well as all data associated with it, can be stored in the database to create an electronic document used for verifying how the drug was handled. "The FDA wants records on all of this," says Baker.

AdvantaPure has enlisted a third-party radiation company to run performance tests on sample GammaTags. The tests involve programming the tags, exposing them to different levels of gamma radiation and testing to see if the tags' data can still be read after exposure—and if the tags can be encoded with new data. AdvantaPure expects the firm to complete testing within two weeks.

So far, AdvantaPure has filled only small sample orders, but Baker says a lot of companies, including pharmaceutical companies and original-equipment manufacturers, are evaluating the tags. The company expects pricing to be no less than $3 or $4 per tag, though Johnson predicts the cost will drop as order volumes rise.

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