Pfizer plans to incorporate RFID technology into Viagra packaging

In a continuing effort to combat drug counterfeiting and protect patients, pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer has announced a new initiative to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that will enable wholesalers and pharmacies to authenticate all Viagra sold in the U.S. The project supports FDA efforts to promote the development of standards and processes in preparation for RFID's broader use across the pharmaceutical industry.

Pfizer will begin planning for the project immediately and has set a goal to start shipping Viagra with RFID technology by the end of next year. Pfizer will be among the first companies in the pharmaceutical industry to implement an RFID program on such a broad basis.

Viagra was selected because it is one of the most recognizable and counterfeited medicines in the U.S. The company will add passive RFID tags to cases and retail packages of Viagra at an estimated initial cost of several million dollars. Pfizer does not expect to achieve any cost savings at this point.

"To us, this is strictly a patient safety issue," says Tom McPhillips, vice president of the U. S. Trade Group. "Drug counterfeiting is a serious and growing problem and RFID offers the potential to be an important anti-counterfeiting technology in the future. It's certainly not the only solution. Changes to state regulations, more stringent licensing of pharmaceutical wholesalers, modifications of business practices, and increased enforcement also are very important. But RFID does offer great promise as an effective tool in the battle against counterfeiting."

McPhillips says the year-long Viagra project will help Pfizer further define both the benefits and challenges of RFID as the company and the industry move toward its broader implementation. "RFID will significantly impact the way we do business and therefore will require changes to our business processes," he says. "It creates unique technical issues that we need to understand and address as we plan for more comprehensive use of this technology."

Pfizer also is working with several organizations and industry groups to develop standards and procedures for implementing RFID and the systems required to support it. The company participated earlier this year in a pilot project, organized by the consulting and technology firm Accenture, that explored the use of RFID and Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology within the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Pfizer is taking a multi-faceted approach to combating counterfeiting. In addition to RFID, the company has incorporated color shifting inks into the logos on some product packaging and has implemented unique bar coding and other tools to make it more difficult for criminals to copy its products.

Pfizer has increased the size of its global security staff assigned to anti-counterfeiting activities and is working closely with law enforcement agencies in a number of countries to identify and close down counterfeiting operations, and to prosecute those involved.

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