Tuesday, September 04, 2007

GSK bashes RFID but quickly recants

Welcome back! Let's kick off September with some RFID anti-hype.

Now, I have nothing against RFID, which has many useful applications. However, I think RFID has been massively oversold relative to its actual ability to be a cross-company supply chain solution to counterfeiting and diversion. Read the many comments to my RFID Un-Hype post to get a flavor for the debate.

I must be developing a reputation as an RFID skeptic because multiple people sent me last week's story from The Times (London) reporting that GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) may abandon RFID in favor of “more reliable, less costly technology.” See GSK plan to beat drug counterfeiters may be scrapped. According to the article:

“[T]he programme, which uses technology developed by IBM, has been riddled with technical hitches. They include RFID tags breaking as they are attached to products, a failure of tracking technology to read them during transit and a widespread failure by wholesalers and retailers further down the supply chain to embrace the technology.”

Oooh, that’s gotta hurt!

Apparently GSK had second thoughts about this statement because their PR flack quickly recanted three days later in the not-quite-objective RFID Journal saying:

“RFID remains in place,” says GSK spokesperson Mary Ann Rhyne. “In fact, we've extended the RFID testing, and no cut-off time has been determined.”

Personally, I’m skeptical about anything in RFID Journal because it is a primary source of unabashed boosterism. They run polls that ask leading questions such as “Should the FDA mandate the use of RFID?” (68% of RFID Journals say yes!) I almost expect them to run a poll asking: “Is RFID a great technology for the pharma supply chain … or the greatest technology?”

So, what’s going on? Here are two theories:

One, I’ve learned that GSK will be presenting at the California Board of Pharmacy’s September 20 Enforcement Committee Meeting, so it would be bad form to suggest any delays with only 16 months left before the deadline. I’m curious to see how much they spin the Times story there. BTW, Pfizer (PFE) gave a very thorough and insightful presentation at the June 20 meeting, which I’ve posted online here. (Be patient -- it’s a 10MB file.) See page 3 of the meeting minutes for highlights. FYI, I discussed Pfizer’s doubts about RFID back in June.

Two, GSK may also feel embarrassed because the Times story mentioned IBM, who just two weeks earlier released its latest hype-filled press release about ePedigree. This time, they tout IBM's proprietary RFID Information Center (RFIDIC – pronounced “Riffy-Dick”?). One tech trade mag notes that IBM has nothing more than a reporting mechanism to "churn out a so-called ePedigree report."

Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that Paul Chang of IBM went on CNBC to announce that the pharmaceutical industry is rallying around RFID technology. Actually, it was August 8, 2006, and yes, I still have the transcript. Since it looks like IBM is planning to make this an annual summer event, I hope you will plan to join me in August 2008 for the Third Annual IBM RFID Barbeque and Pedigree Roast!

But seriously, I was quite impressed with how much Miss Teen USA (South Carolina) knew about geography. So, I've asked her to guest blog in a future Drug Channels posting so she can explain how RFID will make the pharma supply chain safer. Stay tuned!


Coming on Thursday: An exclusive peek behind the curtains of the CVS-Caremark combination.

1 comment:

  1. More confusion around RFID, pedigree, and serializaiton. See

    Thank you for you insights.