Five years after falsified versions of Roche's cancer drug Avastin first hit the headlines, fake packs are still being discovered in the supply chain.
Cyprus' Ministry of Health has revealed that three batches of fake Avastin – bearing the Altuzan tradename used in Turkey – have been identified on the northern (Turkish-speaking) side of the island. Avastin (bevacizumab) is used to treat a range of cancers, including colorectal, breast and lung cancer.
The Cyprus MoH's Pharmaceutical Services division said in a statement that according to information received from Roche, the three batches of Altuzan (100mg/ml) – bearing the numbers B7213B03, B7211B85 and B7211B91 – have been confirmed to be falsified, and "there may be others".
Knock-off Altuzan was first discovered in the US in 2012 and also found its way into the UK, Switzerland, India, and Denmark, among other countries. Upon analysis the counterfeit was revealed to have no active ingredient, and it also caused side effects in patients, with some reporting severe reactions during infusions that meant that treatment had to be discontinued.
A subsequent US Food and Drug Administration investigation revealed that the spread of the falsified medicine in the US was fairly broad, with nearly 100 physicians, mostly in California, purchasing the bogus cancer drug. Distributors were forced to stop selling drugs to US physicians and at least 11 criminal proceedings were brought against the principals.
The case prompted Ronald Noble, secretary-general of the international police organization Interpol to describe the case as "a watershed moment for law enforcement to recognise that this is not a problem that can be restricted to one part of the world. It let the US know it's not immune to [falsified] drugs."
The Altuzan case wasn;t the first time counterfeit Avastin was identified in the marketplace. Back in 2010, Shanghai experienced an outbreak of endophthalmitis following the injection of fake bevacizumab into the eyes of patients with retinal diseases.
Roche has taken steps to protect patients taking Avastin in some markets. For example, in India it has deployed serialized codes supplied by Kezzler to vials of the drug to allow authentication by SMS.