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Cephalon to Tag Cancer Drug at Point of Manufacture

The company says the performance it has seen from the Gen 2 tags and readers it has tested is encouraging.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 29, 2007Cephalon, a manufacturer of pain and oncology drugs, plans to begin tagging cases and pallets of Fentora, a cancer treatment drug and a schedule II narcotic, at its Salt Lake City manufacturing facility later this year.

Cephalon has been evaluating the use of radio frequency identification for the past two years and wants to deploy the technology to fight counterfeiting and improve its outbound product tracking. The company hopes that its downstream supply chain partners will use the RFID tags it attaches to its products to tracking them as part of electronic pedigree tracking initiatives.

Randy Bradway
The company first announced its plans to begin testing the use of RFID technology based on EPCglobal's second-generation Electronic Product Code standard to track at the item-, case- and pallet-levels in 2005 (see Cephalon Announces Item-Level Pilot).

It changed its focus to case and pallet tracking because of poor read rates from Gen 1 tags attached at the item level, explains Randy Bradway, vice president of commercial operations at Cephalon. The foil materials used in the item-level packaging made it difficult to read tags. "We weren't even getting good read rates at the case level [with Gen 1 tags]," he says.

But last year, when the company began testing Gen 2 tags at an RFID testing facility operated by RFID systems provider ADT, it saw significant improvements in both the read rates and read distances. Successful case and pallet tag read rates as goods moved through a portal jumped from 9.7 percent with Gen 1 tags to 93.2 percent with Gen 2, and the distance from which it could read the tags jumped from 12 feet with Gen 1 to 20 feet with Gen 2.

Based on these performance improvements, Cephalon plans to being testing the application of Gen 2 tags on individual packages of the drug, as well as case and pallet tagging, but the company does not have a timeline for this phase of its RFID project.

"It's a evolutionary process," Bradway says of Cephalon's work with RFID. "We had to crawl a little [with Gen 1], but we got a flavor for business processes."

The company is currently outfitting its Salt Lake City facility with UHF Gen 2 Speedway readers and antennas from Impinj. Bradway says that while Cephalon worked with middleware provider OATSystems on its initial testing, the company is also now evaluating other middleware providers to determine the best means by which it will integrate RFID tag data with its SAP enterprise resource planning software.

Cephalon will initially manually apply EPC Gen 2 labels with inlays made by ADT. But it plans to install an automated tag application system as soon as the tagging system is up and running and is proved stable.

The company believes tagging all of the cases and pallets of Fentora will help it better track outbound shipments and also encourage better tracking of the product throughout the supply chain. Bradway says not all of Cephalon's supply chain partners (wholesalers and distributors) will be leveraging the RFID tags on cases and pallets to track or authenticate the goods right away, but some are likely to, especially those in states where electronic pedigree laws have been passed, such as California. A number of the pharmaceutical distributors are already testing and installing RFID reading infrastructure, including McKesson and Cardinal Health.
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