Pfizer is stepping up its commitment to RFID technology. The giant pharmaceutical company, which has been tagging individual bottles of Viagra since the end of 2005, announced last month that it is extending RFID to a second product line.
By the end of 2007, Pfizer expects to be tagging cases and pallets of overthe- counter pain reliever Celebrex. The company announced its plans for the first time at the RFID Healthcare Industry Adoption Summit, which was held in mid-November in Washington, D.C.
Byron Bond, director of trade operations and customer service for Pfizer, expects the first RFID-tagged cases and pallets of Celebrex to roll off the line by the fourth quarter of next year. Tagged product could work its way to wholesalers and pharmacies by the end of next year or early in 2008.
Although Bond could not say how many RFID tags will be needed for the Celebrex line, it will be significantly more than Pfizer uses for Viagra, given Celebrex's higher production volume. The company has no immediate plans to tag individual bottles of Celebrex, he adds. Though tag prices have dropped 20 percent since Pfizer started tagging bottles of Viagra, Bond says they're still too costly to consider for use on the millions of individual bottles of Celebrex.
Applying UHF Gen 2 tags to cases and pallets of Celebrex will be much more complicated than tagging Viagra, which is produced on a single production line in France. Celebrex will be produced on four high-speed lines at Pfizer's manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico.
In fact, Pfizer says it deliberately chose Celebrex for RFID tagging so that it will be forced to deal with the challenges of applying tags in a high-speed operation. "We wanted to roll out the technology being applied to Viagra somewhere else. Celebrex far outsells Viagra and it's a high-volume product," says Bond. "Within the next four to six years, we expect to have something close to a universal track and trace [e-pedigree system], so we realize we need to spread our RFID capabilities into other areas."
Though it could have chosen Lipitor, another wellknown Pfizer product that—like Viagra—is frequently targeted by counterfeiters, the company says tag prices put that option out of the reach right now. Bond refers to the Lipitor line as Pfizer's Holy Grail of tagging, since the drug is produced at an even higher speed than Celebrex.
Bond also announced that in the coming months, Pfizer will initiate an e-pedigree pilot with a trade partner using Viagra, and will also change the tag placement on its cases from the top of the case to the side. The company has even had discussions with the U.S. government about using RFID to streamline the customs process for the Viagra that enters the country from France. Bond also hopes that Pfizer's trade partners will see efficiency gains in their own operations once RFIDtagged cases of Celebrex begin pouring into the supply chain.