Aegate Limited today launched a three-month pilot with BT, six leading pharmaceutical companies, including Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care and Solvay; and 50 dispensing outlets to test a new method of detecting fraudulent and counterfeit medicines.

This is believed to be the largest pilot project of its kind to apply a mixture of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and bar-coding technologies to both branded and non-branded pharmaceutical products that can be found in any dispensing chemist. Aegate is the latest venture company spun out of PA Consulting Group, the management, systems and technology consulting firm. The Authentication at the point of Dispensing pilot is the first of its kind to provide pharmacists and dispensing doctors with information about the authenticity of the products at the point of dispensing. Unlike other RFID applications currently being tested in the pharmaceutical industry, the pilot bypasses the complex supply chain and focuses on the authenticity of products only at the point of manufacture and at the point where they are given to patients.

This has important patient safety implications, providing a real time check for recalled, expired, and illegal products at the unit-of-use level. Recent market developments, EU accession and changing legislation in the US have put the spotlight on the need for drug companies to authenticate their products.

Ian Rhodes, CEO, Aegate Ltd, said: "By conducting this pilot, we aim to confirm how the scanning of products can be seamlessly incorporated into the dispensing process, whilst adding substantial benefits for the pharmacist. This is a pragmatic, single point authentication solution for the healthcare sector. We chose to work with BT because of their proven track record of providing exceptional IT and communications systems."

Aegate is managing the pilot, providing pharmacy equipment and training as well as the database application. BT is providing the networked IT services (server hosting, a freephone helpline number and help desk support) as well as broadband connectivity to the pharmacies. Courier company DHL is distributing RFID tagged products to participating pharmacies for the duration of the pilot. An independent advisory group is overseeing the pilot, made up of pilot participants and representatives from the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA), the Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).

Ross Hall, CEO, BT Auto-ID Services, said "The European pharmaceutical supply chain is very complex, with drugs sometimes being traded multiple times before they reach the patient. RFID and other scanning technologies have been the subject of much discussion recently, and we believe that this pilot will demonstrate vital business benefits accruing as a result of the intelligent deployment of such technologies. It is an important step in pioneering a new, workflow-based approach towards the supply chain - and is a perfect example of the digital networked economy that pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies and hospitals are operating in today." Authentication at the point of Dispensing(tm) is a simple approach to improving patient safety.

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