Pharma View: Fine Print

Oct. 16, 2008
Few drug manufacturers are making the most of current technologies in security printing, says an HP print guru.

If you know nothing or quite a bit about printing, it’s worth logging on to Steve Simske’s “Security Printing and Imaging” blog. Simske can weave Kantian philosophy or Tangdrinking astronauts into discussions about the mundane world of printing and you, the reader, come out feeling not just educated but a bit enlightened.

Secure variable data printing (SVDP) is one thing Simske, principal scientist in security printing for Hewlett-Packard, blogs about. SVDP involves drug labels populated with clusters of manipulable data. Simske calls the clusters “innate moving targets,” and says they’re not all that hard to do. I asked him to tell us more.

P.T.: Where is pharmaceutical printing technology as opposed to a few years ago?

S.S.: Now, with the big offset printers—such as a Heidelberg, Xeikon, HP—you can get what’s considered acceptable high quality, and you can jump over the line between having to mix and match to get customizability.

P.T.: Still, the expense of customized security printing is one most manufacturers would like to avoid.

S.S.: The pharma industry is saying, “We don’t need this because the California Board of Pharmacy is not going to hold us to it for six years.” So we’re actually doing an endaround. Pharma is very interested in recall and interested in court evidence, so we’re attacking that with the forensic imaging. Even if they don’t need to do security printing today, they can tie security printing into inspection, quality assurance, and database registry information.

P.T.: For a good level of security, what do you recommend for the variable data clusters?

S.S.: We’re providing a 2-D barcode in the middle of a 3-D color barcode that we’ve created. The 3-D color barcode can include hidden information that can be traced, specific colors that can be tracked, and we have microtext at the bottom, produced by the Indigo [HP printer].

P.T.: Microtext?

S.S.: It’s tiny text that is illegible to the eye and is a copy deterrent. That is, it gets rid of casual copying.

P.T.: So the strategy is to make the counterfeiter’s job as difficult as possible?

S.S.: You have to get the counterfeiters, first off, to spend more to produce what you’re producing. [SVDP] is good for that because you’re not trying to outspend them. If you try to outspend counterfeiters, you will. . . . Then you try to get them to use your own equipment. The way that the Indigo prints, we can directly tell if somebody’s using Indigo or another printing device right away. They have to at least be using HP Indigo, and I’m sure you could do the same with Xeikon or Heidelberg.

P.T.: Explain how you use decoys and baiting.

S.S.: We put deterrents out there that we have no business tracking normally. . . . we put extra variable data in there just to see how counterfeiters are going to respond. We don’t actually track that anywhere in the system until we get it down to forensic agents.

P.T.: What do you say to a manufacturer that says, “I can’t afford this new HP printer and all the bells and whistles that are needed to secure my product”?

S.S.: You can’t sell people on security. They say they want security, but ultimately they’re not going to pay for it. So you’ve got to talk to the CxO people and ask them, “What are the other processes that are working for you right now? Is inspection working for you? Is quality assurance working for you? Is registry? How are you guys getting audited?” And then you ask, “Do you even know how much you’re losing [due to counterfeiting]?” We say, “We’re trying to make you more money, and we’re trying to give you security at the same time.”

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Senior Editor