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Drug companies on different RFID frequencies

Second in a series of reports from last November's RFID Healthcare Industry Adoption Summit in Arlington, VA. Bruce Cohen, director of packaging technology for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said that his company was ready to start tagging one of its drugs, which he declined to identify. Cohen made it clear that GSK was honoring its commitment to the Food and Drug Administration, which in February 2004 agreed to give pharmaceutical manufacturers some breathing room to implement RFID tagging voluntarily. At that time GSK pledged that it would tag at least one product within 12 to 18 months. But Randall Lutter, associate commissioner of the FDA, told attendees at the conference sponsored by the National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores and the Healthcare Distribution Management Assn., "From our vantage point today, it appears a voluntary approach may not be enough. At this point we have become concerned about the slow or inadequate progress [being made in] implementing an electronic pedigree." Lutter's impatience aside, the conference featured evidence that the pharmaceutical industry is not exactly mired in RFID mud. Even generic drug manufacturers, who have been lagging behind on RFID for the most part, are expanding their implementations.

Darrell Biggs, a senior engineer and RFID deployment leader for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, explained that his company would start tagging bottles and cartons of schedule II controlled substance generics on a packaging line in a manufacturing facility starting in the second quarter of 2006. Mallinckrodt has been manually tagging generics destined for Wal-Mart in one of its distribution centers.

Biggs explained that it was relatively inexpensive to adapt the company's existing packaging line for application of Gen2 RFID tags. He said it cost "less than half a million dollars to upgrade the line," which fills 120 bottles/minute. He also noted that while some of the packaging line testing has been done, full validation is yet to happen. Some problems he thought might crop up have not. For example, he was initially concerned about electrostatic discharge interfering with label reads. That has not been a problem.

--By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor
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