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Cephalon Moves Ahead With Its RFID E-pedigree Plans

In the latest phase of its RFID deployment, the drugmaker is serializing cardboard shipping containers by means of EPC Gen 2 tags.
By Claire Swedberg
As pharmaceutical wholesalers and retailers further deploy their own RFID technology, they can begin capturing RFID reads as well, and sharing that data with Cephalon. In the meantime, the drug company can start building further toward a full e-pedigree system by beginning to tag individual product units with RFID tags. The units' serialized ID numbers will be linked to the shipping containers' serialized EPC numbers in the firm's back-end system.

"We started building a partnership early," says Brian Brown, Cephalon's associate director of logistics and analytics, to develop an RFID solution, working with ADT Security Services, OATSystems, SAP, SupplyScape and Systech International. He describes the group as an internal think tank: "We've built a very strong brain trust, and in doing so have a very strong understanding for what we are doing today, and what we will be doing in the future."

What Cephalon is doing today, he explains, is staying in line with California's previous goal of implementing an e-pedigree system in 2009 so pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers and pharmacists can share data on products and shipping containers. With certain elements already in place as part of the earlier pilots—including the SAP AII system, as well as the OATSystems software and Impinj readers at the distribution center—Cephalon has been preparing for its next step.

"We thought serialized shipping containers would be a great way to further our progress," Brown says. "We have a history working with OATSystems, and we like their tools, and we like their people. We said, 'Let's go back to the initial project—RFID enablement of the warehouse—and upgrade to Gen 2.'" By implementing this latest program, Brown says his company "will continue to drive the value down the supply chain." Cephalon is hopeful that wholesalers will join in the effort to use those RFID tags to begin sharing data with the drugmaker.

The greatest research on this phase of the deployment, according to Bradway, will be focused on data analytics. "This is less about the technology, and more about data," he says. "It's easy to generate thousands of data points, but you have to come to terms with, What does that data mean?" As a package moves out of the warehouse, Cephalon will track the data that comes in, determining what type of information it acquires through the system, how quickly and accurately, and what the drugmaker can and cannot do with that data.

Cephalon will need the participation of wholesalers to make that information truly valuable, Bradway adds, since it allows the manufacturer to track its product beyond the distribution center. "There are 20-some wholesalers in various levels of implementation of RFID and e-pedigree," he states. As those wholesalers begin utilizing the RFID tags on containers and sharing read results, Cephalon hopes to analyze the resulting data, as well as how well it is transferred between members of the supply chain.

Bradway discourages those in the pharmaceutical industry from becoming complacent because California extended its e-pedigree deadline by two years. "Anyone who thinks 2011 is a long way off," he says, "hasn't been paying attention to how fast the last six months went by. We need to move fast. I think it's naïve for anybody to back off of the 2009 deadline."

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