‘Digital pills’ concept tested by pharma, tech partnership

Colorcon, TruTag and PWC have completed a proof-of-concept trial to demonstrate how individual tablets can be tracked using a blockchain-driven digital system.

The supply chain simulation suggests the platform – which links physical pills tagged with silica ‘crypto anchors’ and a digital backend – could provide “a major step forward in ensuring supply chain integrity and addressing the growing problem of patient non-adherence.”

The system consists of a Colorcon pill coating that incorporates TruTag ‘edible barcodes’, along with a smartphone-based authentication app to decode and verify them.

The app in turn provides a link between the physical tablet and the third component – a blockchain ledger operated by PwC Australia that is based on Google’s Trillian platform.

The partners say the system allows authentication of individual pills without needing to rely on the traditional approach of verifying packaging barcodes – which lies at the heart of medicine traceability approaches in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

Colorcon and TruTag have been working on the project for some time, and tapped PWC for the blockchain systems needed to create a complete, integrated system.

As tablets are scanned with the app, the platform is instantly updated providing details on time, location and authentication result, according to the partners.

“By setting up exception-reporting, brands can be automatically informed of instances of counterfeit, expired or diverted product.”

How the pilot worked

The supply-chain simulation of this technology was conducted over a six-month period earlier this year.

A batch of 1,000 tablets were coated in a facility in Kapolei, Hawaii, using three variants of Colorcon’s Opadry film coating system – and with TruTags included – to represent two different sales regions. Non-tagged coated tablets were also included to represent counterfeits.

The tablets were then sent to six known parties in the US, Australia and Europe who simulated regional wholesalers and patients. Each party was provided access to the app and asked to authenticate the tablets distributed to them.

Over 5,000 authentication events were recorded on the PwC platform, recording data on user, scan time, location and authentication outcome. The untagged tablets were successfully identified, as were tablets being authenticated outside of their designated sales markets, with no false positives recorded.

“By enabling instant authentication, anytime, anywhere, the pharmaceutical industry can better secure the supply chain and, in doing so, safeguard their patients and their brands,” say the companies.

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