Turkish man pleads guilty in counterfeit Avastin case

Altuzan pack shotTurkish national Özkan Semizoğlu pleaded guilty in a US court yesterday to smuggling counterfeit, adulterated and misbranded cancer drugs, including copies of Roche's cancer drug Avastin.

Semizoğlu and associate Sabahaddin Akman were arrested in Puerto Rico in January on charges that they shipped falsified drugs to the US from Turkey and other countries, and were arraigned the following month.

Both men worked for Ozay Pharmaceuticals Co, a Turkish wholesale distributor that distributes medicines to more than 70 countries worldwide, although the company itself had not been charged with any offences at the time of writing.

Suspect shipments of the Turkish brand of Avastin - Altuzan - were at the heart of the police investigation into the case, although other counterfeits including copies of Roche's Mabthera (rituximab; sold as Rituxan in the US) were also discovered.

The illicit Altuzan was intercepted in the US in 2012 and also found its way into the UK, Switzerland and Denmark. The US Department of Justice maintains that the defendants shipped some prescription drugs requiring constant cold temperatures to maintain their stability and effectiveness in shipping boxes without insulation.

The prosecution alleges that the pair used shipping labels to conceal the illegal nature of the shipments, including customs declarations falsely describing the contents as 'gifts,' 'documents,' or 'product samples' with no  or low-declared monetary values.

Akman pleaded not guilty to the charges, which are expected to come to trial in early September, according to a Wall Street Journal report, which cites court documents filed in the Eastern District of Missouri in St Louis.

Each count of smuggling carries penalties of between five and 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000. Semizoğlu faces sentencing on October 28.

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