Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson praised mandatory moves toward bar codes on drugs at the annual meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Organization Monday, but said additional technology could ensure greater safety.
While bar codes can make sure that the right drug gets to the right patient at the right dose, RFID technology is the next logical step. RFID advances have made the technology cheap enough to be employed against counterfeit drugs, Thompson said.
While counterfeit drugs are a significant percentage of the drugs sold in some countries in the developing world, they are a much less pressing issue in the United States. Nonetheless, the Food and Drug Administration lists counterfeiting as one of its hot topics and in February issued a report on how to combat what it called a “growing health problem.” In 2000, the FDA reported five investigations of counterfeit drugs. Last year, that number was more than 20.
But Thompson also cited several other applications of computing technology for science and medicine. For example, now that pharmaceutical companies submit applications for drug approval electronically, the submission takes minutes instead of days. He asked the industry to share ideas with the government about ways that technology could help clear regulatory hurdles and shorten the time to get a drug to market. In silico models of disease and imaging, technologies are also needed, he said.
Specifically, he mentioned the FDAs Critical Path program, which seeks predictive technologies that can quickly identify drugs doomed for failure before they enter expensive clinical trials after many years of development.
Thompson strongly implied that scientists are much quicker to adopt new technologies than are physicians. He urged biotechnology executives to find ways to encourage physicians to use information technology, adding that the 21st century is being held together with 19th century paperwork, and that physicians must learn to use new technologies in order to reduce medical errors. Already though, he said, IT is “massively” improving care by allowing remote monitoring of patients and helping workers in intensive care units to be more efficient.