Monday, September 30, 2013


Joe, a 32 year old, is suddenly noticing some eruptions on his body and decides to schedule an appointment with his physician. The physician calls it to be a common skin allergy and prescribes a particular medication. Not being covered by insurance Joe decides to look out for the best prices and finally orders the medicines online after doing a little bit of background research regarding the firm and its reputation. The medicines arrive on time, neatly packed and carefully delivered. Joe has taken them for a couple of days but sees no apparent changes in his blisters. He meets the physician again and to the worst of his fears finds that he was provided “COUNTERFEIT DRUGS” by his reputable online store! Though Joe was carried away by the lucrative prices anybody can become a victim of counterfeit drugs. At least Joe’s company was reputable and the fraud occurred in the supply chain. Even though this proves that Joe’s background research efforts weren't completely wrong or wasted, it still leaves behind a lingering question pertaining  – “Downstream supply chain security (especially in pharma)”.
How reliable are theses downstream supply chain operations? With essential and life-saving products (like drugs) now being ordered online and shipped to the consumer’s homes what more can we do to assure that the increasing number of illegal medicines that are being shipped from outside the country don’t infiltrate the supply chain. These infiltrations could take a toll on patient’s health causing serious health consequences. What more is needed to ensure that these products reach safely without being manipulated?! “RxTec” could be one of the answers. Not just the downstream supply but all along the pharma supply chain it is essential that any opportunity for drug manipulation or robbery be killed. There might not be a comprehensive solution that we could simply purchase and put in place immediately but there definitely is a way in which we could motivate the industry with examples and inspire the entire system to opt for safer and more secure supply chain.
RxTec refers to a track and trace system developed for the pharmaceutical industry. It has the capability to tag several million drugs with help of software and IT, such that scanning and tracing the number printed onto the products, could give essential information about the location, condition and other needed information relevant to the drug. This IT enabled supply chain was supported by ‘The Pharmaceutical Tractability Enhancement Code’ which intended to balance the security risks and the financial investments needed for implementing this technology. The committee realized that technology development and software designing might take a couple of years but convincing all the folks in this large industry starting from the vendors who provide the raw material through the manufacturers and suppliers and distributors and dispensers, would to be a even harder task.

While it is feasible to visualize a dream wherein every unit of medication will be tagged and made scannable thereby increasing the security of the pharmaceutical supply chain network but would it be feasible to convince the individual entities in this huge supply network, to invest in this technique? A synchronous system of coding and tagging could be beneficial when looked at the system holistically. Unfortunately we are in a situation where it is becoming hard to convince businesses to share any data relevant to patient health (be it even for the good of the patient) and expecting the big pharma businesses to join RxTec as an interdependent entity might prove to be very difficult. Probably legislation could do it by enforcement but for this we need the FDA, Congress and other important stakeholders to give it a more serious thought and prioritize the issue. Nonetheless this system will definitely prove to be useful in the short run (until hackers nullify or defeat its purpose and then we need to begin rethinking the safety of pharma supply).


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