Indian man arrested in US for trafficking fake cancer drug

An Indian national is facing charges related to the alleged sale and shipment of counterfeit cancer medicines into the US, according to the Department of Justice.

Sanjay Kumar (43) of Bihar, India, was arrested on June 26 on suspicion that he shipped falsified versions of Keytruda (pembrolizumab), a cancer drug sold by Merck & Co (known as MSD outside the US and Canada) “on several occasions.” He is also accused of doing the same with fake versions of other, as-yet-unnamed pharmaceuticals used in oncology.

He was taken into custody following an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FDA.

According to US Attorney Alamdar Hamdani, Kumar is being charged with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and, if convicted, faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison as well as a possible $1m fine.

The case could be another example of counterfeiters falsifying high-value pharmaceutical products in the interest of making a quick profit, regardless of the consequences on people’s health.

Often, counterfeit medicines don’t contain the active ingredient promised on the label, and can also have contaminants that can cause toxicity or infection – particularly in the case of drugs like Keytruda that are administered by intravenous infusion.

Keytruda is a massive seller for Merck, topping $25bn in sales last year from use across 17 different tumour types. It has a list price of more than $11,300 per dose given every three weeks and $22,600 per dose given every six weeks, which gives an indication of the revenue potential for counterfeiters.

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