Last week, Alexis Pellek of Pharmaceutical Technology wrote about a pilot project launched by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations to test a new system designed to battle counterfeit drugs (See the blog post.) The system involved using DataMatrix 2D barcodes, which enable pharmacists to test the legitimacy of each packet.
We spoke with Mark Beauchamp, European Marketing Manager of Citizens Systems Europe, a firm that specializes in barcode technology, to better understand how barcoding can help the pharmaceutical industry to clamp down on counterfeit drugs.
First, it’s important to realize that traceability cannot be provided by traditional barcodes; in Europe, the current industry standard is the EAN barcode. “Information is key to both improving traceability and reducing counterfeiting in the healthcare market,” Beauchamp explained. “In many cases, however, conventional barcodes are unable to hold the level of information needed.”
Enter DataBar codes, designed by GS1—an organization that designs and implements global standards and solutions—specifically to meet industry needs for traceability. “These can hold considerably more information than standard barcodes, including Global Trade Identification Numbers for variable data such as batch, expiration date, serial number, price, monetary value, size or weight,” said Beauchamp. “The new system will only work if it’s adopted universally, which is why it’s being rolled out as the next standard in barcoding.”
The EFPIA project, however, is using a different kind of barcode—DataMatrix. “This can hold even more data than a GS1 DataBar code, and is becoming popular in the pharma sector as it enables more complex tracking and even allows security codes to be embedded in codes on batches of drugs,” said Beauchamp.
The information is accessed by scanning the barcode, and the data can be fed back to the manufacturer, suppliers and retailers to create what Beauchamp refers to as a “closed loop data system” that monitors pharmaceuticals as they move across the globe and helps manufacturers to quickly and easily prove the validity of a drug or shipment.
So it’s great news when it comes to the battle against counterfeits, but what about pharma manufacturers? Is a massive investment in new printing technology needed?
Thankfully no. “Many of the printers currently being used to produce EAN barcodes are already capable of printing DataBar and DataMatrix codes accurately,” said Beauchamp. “This is one of the major benefits of the new coding systems and will allow organizations to implement the technology quickly, easily and affordably.”
Hopefully this means the industry will finally be able to gain some control over counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which are rapidly becoming more prevalent. Beauchamp added that “Only with a coherent flow of information will the necessary improvements be seen. Perhaps in time, a central organization will be required to manage the secure transfer of data around the world.”
To read the full interview with Mark Beauchamp, go to www.pharmtech.com/beauchamp.