Astrazeneca sees the adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) by its supply chain as vital to counter the increasing threat of organised crime in counterfeiting pharmaceutical products.
For pharmaceutical companies like Astrazeneca, RFID is less about cutting costs and making supply chains run more smoothly, and more a question of patient safety and product security.
According to the company's global RFID project director, John Morgan, RFID adoption will cut down on errors during drug prescription, dispensing and administration, and help prevent the fraudulent use of products, including counterfeiting.
Morgan told the EPCglobal conference in London that Astrazeneca's use of RFID dated back to 1996.
Its immediate RFID developments are now being driven by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is championing "pedigree" - a secure record of where a drug was manufactured and distributed.
According to the FDA, RFID tagging of products "appears to offer the most promising approach to reliable product tracking and tracing", although it admitted there was no silver bullet for counterfeiting.
"Our problem in the pharmaceutical world is that there is no Wal-Mart driving everyone towards adoption," said Morgan. "Even the FDA has not mandated RFID."
Morgan said Astrazeneca was still piloting RFID, and aimed to roll it out first in the US.
One of the likely barriers to success, he said, was the lack of data sharing in the pharmaceutical industry. "Unlike the retail sector, we just do not have that history of sharing information."