Drugmakers back Interpol in counterfeit medicines fight

Interpol counterfeit medicine imageNearly 30 pharmaceutical companies have clubbed together to support Interpol in the creation of a new Pharmaceutical Crime Programme.

The drugmakers - including Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck & Co, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi - are contributing €4.5m ($5.8m) over three years to the PCP, which will build on the work of Interpol's Medical Product Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit.

The extra funding and expansion will bolster the ability of law enforcement agencies - including regulatory agencies, police and customs - to work together to tackle pharmaceutical crimes such as medicines counterfeiting, diversion, theft and adulteration.

The PCP will focus on the prevention of all types of pharmaceutical crime as well as the identification and dismantling of organised crime networks linked to this illegal activity, which generates millions of euros in illicit profits every year.

The World Health Organization has estimated that sales of medicines that are counterfeit, contaminated or otherwise illegal total $430bn a year.

"With no country, no drug, no medical product immune from counterfeiting, a global effort is needed to combat this threat which puts the lives of millions of people at risk every single day," said Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.

The programme will try to raise public awareness of the dangers of fake drugs, particularly for people buying medicines on-line. The WHO estimates that in more than 50 per cent of cases, medicines purchased over the Internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address have been found to be counterfeit.

The scale of the Pangea operation has grown every year, with 2010's haul amounting to £2.6m in seized illicit medicines and 2011 coming in at $6.3m.

Last year's Operation Pangea - the fifth annual operation carried out by Interpol and other enforcement agencies around the world - specifically targeted online medicine sales and resulted in some 80 arrests and the seizure of 3.75 million units of potentially life-threatening medicines worth $10.5 million.

"Drug counterfeiting … it can mean the difference between life and death for a patient," said Sanofi chief executive Christopher Viehbacher.

"It is estimated that 10 per cent of medicines are fake and these figures can go up to 50 per cent, particularly in some poorer countries," he added.  "This is why it is so important that industry members partner with Interpol to coordinate law enforcement operations around the world so that we can help curtail the threat of counterfeit medicines online and at the retail level."

The program will include training, capacity building and targeted enforcement actions to build awareness of the issue, as well as to disrupt and dismantle the organized crime networks involved in the various types of pharmaceutical crimes such as counterfeiting, illicit sales or illicit diversions.

A full list of participating companies is available here.

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