Posted 19 September 2014
By Alexander Gaffney, RAC
A new government project is calling for help from the pharmaceutical industry to make what will be, in effect, a Facebook for drugs.
In a notice issued on 19 September 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said it’s looking for participants in its Computational Photography Project for Pill Identification, or C3PI for short.
The project is an attempt to photograph and build a high-quality catalogue of what all oral solid dosage formulation products sold in the US look like. That could be of substantial benefit to pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, who might eventually use the tool to prevent drug mix-ups, identify loose pills possessed by elderly patients, and aid in identifying pills in an emergency situation like an overdose or accidental ingestion.
NIH says its C3PI program has already imaged hundreds of drugs, and has a growing library of more than 2,000 "validated" images of oral solid dosage drugs. Those images are available online at NIH's "RxImage" website.
NIH is reportedly also working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the project, which developed a new file specification for the submission of image files.
Now NIH is looking for even more participants in the program, including drug manufacturers and re-packagers. The catch: NIH needs to be able to ensure that the drugs used to make the images are genuine to ensure that falsified or degraded products aren't included in the database. Only products "whose origin can be traced back to pharmaceutical manufacturers or private label distributors registered or listed with FDA" should be used, NIH said.
NIH said it hopes the C3PI program will eventually be able to support image-based search, much in the same way that social media websites like Facebook can ID you and your friends automatically when you upload an image to its website. While there are numerous technical challenges that must first be surmounted prior to the implementation of this technology—accounting for different camera angles and differences in lighting and "color transfer functions" in different cameras, for example—NIH said the program will eventually be a substantial benefit to patient safety.
Companies interested in participating in the program can sign up here.