The Anatomy of Smart Pharma: IoT connected NFC Tags for Patient Engagement & Protection

The Anatomy of Smart Pharma: IoT connected NFC Tags for Patient Engagement & Protection

These are interesting times for pharmaceutical companies. On the one hand, various market analysts, including Deloitte Global Life Sciences, are predicting strong growth over the next years, with a CAGR of around 5% globally through 2020, and global revenues increasing to 1.2 trillion US dollars in 2020.

On the other hand, pharma is having to work harder to stay ahead. This is due to a number of challenges, ranging from increased regulation, which requires closer tracking and integrity protection of items while they’re in the supply chain, decreased revenue, resulting from the presence of counterfeit drugs and grey markets, and increasing cost pressures caused by governmental health reforms,  including value-based care models or pro-generic policies.  There’s also the need to become more patient-centric, by offering products and services that make it easier for patients to follow treatment plans and encourage active patient interaction.

The key question, then, is how best to address these challenges and still meet growth targets. For many pharma brands, the answer lies in mobile health technology. More specifically, it means using Near Field Communication (NFC) to improve products, making them more intelligent, more interactive, more traceable, and more valuable.


Leveraging the Pharma IoT

A growing number of pharma companies are discovering the power of putting smart NFC tags on or into their product packages, as part of a label, a closure, or the container itself. Smart NFC tags can deliver several benefits. They give each product a unique identity, and support additional security features and functionalities, so each item easier to authenticate and trace. NFC tags also provide a direct link to the cloud, so products can join the pharmaceutical Internet of Things (IoT). By tapping the product package with an NFC-enabled smartphone, people can use the smart, IoT-connected NFC tag to access everything from authenticity checks to dosing information, diagnostic tools, and supply chain details.

The recent uptick in smart NFC labels and packaging for pharma products has followed the rapid growth of NFC-enabled smartphones. 2019 shipments of NFC-enabled smartphones are forecast to be just under 1 billion units, and the installed base is predicted to reach 2.3 billion units (ABI Research, Strategy Analytics).  As the installed base goes up, so does the number of people able to read smart pharma labels, and there is greater incentive for pharmaceuticals to leverage features made possible by the IoT.


Why NFC is a Great Choice for Smart Pharma

There are three reasons why NFC tagging is an ideal choice for smart pharma applications. First, NFC is designed for secure ID applications, since each NFC tag carries a unique ID and can incorporate proven security features, including cryptographic algorithms, that safeguard data. Second, NFC offers data storage for on-product data, from a simple web link to a tamper-evident or ambient-temperature status, for quick, efficient interactions. And third, NFC connects to off-product information, providing access to large amounts of cloud-based data, such as detailed product information,  contextual rules for targeted messaging, historic tracking or an online authentication service. The result is a secure approach to digitalization for just about any pharma product.


The Benefits of Smart, NFC-driven Solutions

The features and functionalities described above – secure ID, on-product data, and off-product data – combine to yield a wide range of capabilities that deliver a variety of benefits, including increased patient safety, higher quality assurance, greater consumer/patient engagement, and more effective messaging and analytics.

  • Anti-Counterfeiting and Channel Traceability
    By helping to ensure patient safety, combat fraud, and increase traceability, NFC smart tags and labels help protect brands and increase consumer confidence.Inspectors and consumers can securely verify that a product is genuine. Verification can happen in near real time, anywhere in the world, by simply tapping an NFC-enabled smartphone to the product package.The need to combat counterfeit drugs is critical. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that 8 to 15% of drugs sold globally are fake or substandard. Developing countries are more affected than developed countries. Not only do fake medicines impact pharma revenues, they pose a health risk, since they can contain incorrect doses, wrong ingredients, or no active ingredients at all.For channel traceability, and to help identify sales outside authorized markets, NFC tags can be assigned to specific distributors and locations. The ability to authenticate and trace products within the supply chain, using location awareness and cloud-based monitoring, also makes it easier for pharma companies to meet regulatory requirements and protect the last mile to the consumer. By identifying clusters of counterfeits, tampering episodes, or diverted products, pharma companies can take corrective actions sooner.


  • Anti-Tampering and other Product Integrity Assurance
    An increasing number of medication – as many as one-third of all new FDA approval in the U.S. – are heat sensitive, which means improper storage and transit issues can impact quality and reduce effectiveness. Regulations for temperature control cover the points between the pharma company and the pharmacy or hospital, but not the last mile to the patient. Smart NFC labels can be equipped with temperature sensors and data loggers that monitor ambient temperature changes at any time and report whether a product has been handled correctly, even once it’s left the supply chain and is in the patient’s hands. The pharma company can trace when and where any problems occur, for quick remediation, and patients can be certain of a drug’s quality and effectiveness.Tamper evidence, which indicates if a product has been opened or interfered with prior to sale, is another feature that can reassure patients. Tamper evidence can remove doubts about whether a product has been diluted, refilled, or otherwise substituted from the original, for increased consumer-patient confidence.


  • Consumer/Patient Engagement
    The increased use of apps, wearables, and sensors is evidence that patients want to be more engaged in their own care, want to play a more active role in managing their well-being, and want to know more about their medications. Deloitte reports that there are over 260,000 health apps in use worldwide and that 70% of patient groups use at least one app to manage their condition – making it clear that a mobile ecosystem has developed within healthcare.On-demand product information, such as ingredients, origin, expiration date, or intended use, along with interactions with smartphone apps, such as medication management tools, diaries, or alarms, and connection to doctors and social patient networks, give consumers new ways to become more engaged. Smart NFC labels and packages can help patients stick to their treatment plans, since the technology lets pharma companies communicate key information, such as dosage and usage information, directly to patients via their smartphones.WHO estimates that more than half of patients with chronic diseases fail to adhere to their prescribed therapy. Smart NFC packages can be configured to sense when a pill is taken out of a blister package and then log date and time of the action. This feature, when used with an NFC phone and an app, can generate reminders to take a pill and/or check proper dosage. When combined with cloud connectivity, it can enable treatment monitoring and advice by a physician. Helping patients keep to their dosing schedules can be especially useful with the treatment of chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions that need ongoing care.Smart NFC packages also give patients a way to interact with pharma companies, in support of the pharmacovigilance tasks related to product safety. Mobile consumer/patient engagement can help identify and prevent adverse effects associated with a given medication. Patients can use an application to report any health issues associated with use of a product, and pharmaceutical companies can inform their app users if a product is recalled. These kinds of interactions also create closer relationships between pharma companies and their consumer/patient customers.


  • Automated Device Interaction
    Health devices, such as glocuse meters and other drug-delivery devices, can be equipped with NFC readers that communicate with NFC tagged refills, to automatically confirm origin and prevent container re-use. NFC tagged refills can make products easier to use, too. By storing configuration data, the NFC tag can automate setups, and by storing expiration dates, the NFC tag can ensure the refill is still within its recommended use period.


Real-World Use Cases

Here are just some of the ways that today’s pharma companies are creating a competitive advantage with smart NFC labels.

  • VIVACY, France
    To guarantee the safety of their products and combat counterfeiting, VIVACY uses smart NFC labels with their STYLAGE lidocaine products, a range of dermal fillers for use in anti-aging and aesthetic medicine. Each box of STYLAGE is affixed with a smart NFC label, supplied by Paragon ID, which is encoded at the time of production and bears the lot number. Distributors and consumers anywhere around the world can e-verify the authenticity of VIVACY products by scanning them with their smartphones via a dedicated mobile app, called My Vivacy. The app reads the data on the chip and offers real-time information about origin and other manufacturing data.
  • BIOLOG-ID, France
    Recognized as a leader in the development of traceability solutions for sensitive health products, including blood components, plasma for the manufacture of blood-derived drugs, and injectable chemotherapy drugs, BIOLOG-ID uses an award-winning NFC labelling system to trace products and comply with strict health and safety requirements. The smart NFC labels, supplied by Paragon ID and used with all bags containing blood plasma, are able to withstand difficult storage and usage conditions, including extreme cold, and offer increased control of the distribution network at every stage of a product’s journey to the patient. 

  • SCHREINER MediPharm, Germany
    For many years, SCHREINER MediPharm has been a global provider of specialty pharmaceutical labeling solutions. They offer a broad portfolio of customized solutions with integrated NFC. These include a secure, tamper-evident labeling solution, based on NFC, designed for boxes and containers, as well as for products such as injection pens and other devices for drug delivery. Their smart NFC labels guarantee product authenticity and detect the first product opening. They also support tailored, context-based user/patient messages. Before product opening, the messages including ingredients, formulation, and expiration date, and after opening they offer instructions for use, demo videos, and additional product information. All these features can be accessed using an intuitive smartphone app.

Made Possible by NXP

As the co-inventor of NFC and a leading supplier for advanced RFID solutions, NXP provides the foundational technology for the IoT. Our portfolio focuses on the secure collection of IDs and data from everyday products, along with communication of that data to the cloud, where products have their own addressable digital profiles and can exchange data in real time.

Our ICODE® products combine HF functionality for use in the supply chain and NFC functionality for use by consumers, while our dedicated NTAG® NFC products, now in their second generation, support the latest mobile applications, including secure product authentication and information sharing on or off package.

Here are a few portfolio highlights, recommended for use with Android or iOS:

  • NTAG 213 Tag Tamper
    Equipped with a tamper loop that indicates when the package has been opened, this NFC tag also has a brand-specific originality signature that assures tag origin. The tag supports pre- and post-sale messaging, with content, based on real-time product status, for deeper consumer engagement.
  • NTAG 413 DNA
    Designed for security-sensitive applications, this is a crypto-secure NFC tag for tap-unique authentication. The tag generates a Secure Unique NFC (Sun) authentication message upon each phone read-out. This high-level security feature, which is available with all standard NFC reader phones, allows for authentic and integrity protected data exchange with a server.
  • NTAG SmartSensors
    These semi-passive tags combine NFC functionality with autonomous sensing, data processing and logging, powered by a battery. The functionality is both flexible and autonomous, leveraging an ARM Cortex-M0+ microcontroller and a large, nonvolatile memory. Information is protected from the sensor to the cloud, assuring data origin and protecting sensor data against tampering and unauthorized access.

Protecting and Engaging Patients

Pharmaceuticals are entering a new era, using technology to enhance patient safety and increase patient engagement. When pharma products are equipped with smart NFC labels that connect to cloud-based functionality, pharmaceuticals become part of the IoT and can deliver valuable benefits to everyone, from the pharma companies to medical professionals and patients. As brand owners, pharma companies get the benefit of direct patient engagement, protection against counterfeits, the potential for increased revenue, and real-time data about patient behavior. From the consumer-patient point of view, smart pharma products offer easy, on-demand access to relevant information, and the option to access personalized, 24/7 services.


Take the Next Step

To learn more about how smart NFC solutions can transform pharma products, visit our dedicated site for NFC products, or contact your local NXP sales office.


Sylvia Kaiser-Kershaw
Sylvia Kaiser-Kershaw
A marketing professional with over 15 years of experience working across markets, including technology, FMCG, prestige, and financial services, Sylvia Kaiser-Kershaw is an expert in the definition and implementation of brand strategies and cross-channel marketing solutions. At NXP, she's driving IoT applications that increase engagement between brands and consumers by adding digital RFID-NFC connectivity, security and intelligence to physical media and products.

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