One of the nation's largest pharmaceutical wholesalers has announced plans to launch a pilot program to track drugs throughout the distribution process using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

AmerisourceBergen will install IBM's Track and Trace for Pharma system early next year in its largest distribution California-based to help secure the drug supply chain from theft and tampering.

The system, based on WebSphere middleware, will scan RFID tags now used by pharmaceutical manufacturers for a handful of drugs as cases containing those drugs enter the Sacramento warehouse, said Shay Reid, AmerisourceBergen's vice president for integrated solutions. As drug orders leave the warehouse, the RFID readers will record the time and location of each unit so the company can build a complete history of all the drugs that are now tagged.

"We're hoping to establish an electronic chain of custody for each individual unit of drug that is tagged," Reid said.

The manufacturer hopes to have some components required for the system in place by January and will begin reading RFID tags in March, Reid said.

The pilot, which will also use security software from VeriSign to authenticate transactions, will include linking AmerisourceBergen's track and trace system to those used by five drug manufacturers during the first half of 2007. Reid declined to name the manufacturers or provide details on the cost of the project.