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BRIDGE Expects to Launch Five European RFID Pilots This Fall

The biggest of the EU-funded projects involve seven pharmaceutical and health-care organizations, using RFID and 2-D bar codes to trace drugs from the point of manufacture to delivery at a pharmacy.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 24, 2007After a year of research and development, the EU-funded BRIDGE project is readying five pilots involving numerous European businesses looking to test EPC Gen 2 RFID technology. The pilots, all slated to start in the fall, will test RFID in several industries: retail, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, distribution and logistics, and services.

BRIDGE ("Building Radio frequency IDentification solutions for the Global Environment") is a three-year project funded with €7.5 million ($10.4 million), as part of the European Union's Sixth Framework Program for Research and Technological Development (FP6). Headed by GS1, a developer of bar-code, EPC RFID and other systems and standards for improving supply-chain management, the project includes participants from both the industry and research arenas. BRIDGE was created to research, develop and implement tools enabling EPCglobal applications, as well as to drive the acceptance of EPCglobal standards in Europe (see BRIDGE Project Members Press Ahead).

The biggest pilot—in terms of the number of companies participating—will test the use of EPC Gen 2 technology to track pallets of drugs moving through the supply chain, from pharmaceutical manufacturers through distributor networks and on to hospitals and pharmacies. "The purpose of the pilot is to use RFID to know where the goods come from, and where they are at any given moment," says Henri Barthel, coordinator of the BRIDGE project, based in GS1's global office in Brussels, Belgium. "With RFID, the idea is that the technology can help companies manage the supply chain in a much more accurate and efficient manner."

The so-called Pharma Traceability Pilot (also referred to as WP06 in the BRIDGE Project) is outlined in two newly published BRIDGE documents: Pharma Traceability Pilot: Problem Analysis and Pharma Traceability Pilot: Requirements Analysis. Participants in the planned pilot will include drugmakers Actavis and Athlone Laboratories, pharmaceutical distributors Alloga and United Drug Group, distributor and retailer Celesio, U.K.-based health-care provider Barts and the London NHS Trust and pharmaceutical contract packager Tjoapack.

The first phase of the pilot, expected to kick off in September or October and last about six months, will trace a number of products, identified at the carton and pallet levels using passive EPC RFID tags and 2-D bar-code labels. Pilot organizers explain that a "hybrid environment" of RFID and bar-coding will be used to validate the pros and cons of each technology. The tags and labels will be encoded with a GS1 Global Traded Item Number (GTIN) and a unique item number (a serialized GTIN or SGTIN). The products will be traced as they move from the production line; through wholesaler picking, packing and distribution stages; and ultimately upon being received by a hospital pharmacy.

As the product moves along the supply chain, RFID reads of the pallet tags will document the locations of the goods and who has them, as well as when participants received and shipped them out (through time and date stamps). The cartons will bear 2-D bar-code labels encoded not only with GTINs and SGTINs, but also with such data as batch numbers and expiration information. Approximately 22 product lines will be involved in the pilot, Barthel says, packaged in blister packs and other forms of direct dispensing to patients, rather than in bulk quantities in jars or bottles. In addition to RFID tags and 2-D bar-code labels, the pilot will incorporate a network-based system allowing participants to store, access and analyze all data collected during the pilot.

The pilot is designed to support an electronic pedigree (e-pedigree), used to document a medication's chain of custody and the authenticity of its manufacture. Where possible, the pilot will use software conforming to EPCglobal's e-pedigree standard, as well as EPCglobal Information and EPCglobal Discovery Services systems, to share information about the drugs. Such data would then be correlated with the GTINs and SGTINs.

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