Cancer meds now drugs of choice among counterfeiters

AstraZeneca has four people in China tracking counterfeit drug factories
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While lifestyle drugs such as Viagra may still be the most counterfeited drugs around the world, international authorities are finding that some of those making fake drugs are turning more often to high-priced and life-saving cancer medications. Many come from China. The discovery of counterfeit cancer med Avastin in the U.S. last year is just the tiniest tip of an iceberg of forged cancer drugs floating around the world.

Simple economics is driving the trend. With a vial of Avastin going for $2,400, it is little surprise that those willing to put people's lives in danger to make money see greater potential than in a $15 or $20 bottle of fake Viagra, The Wall Street Journal reports. Andrew Jackson, head of global security at Novartis ($NVS), said the industry has noted the increase in recent years. "The industry is obviously looking at this more rigorously than ever before...I suspect that the bad guys have clocked onto the huge profits that can be made."

Five years ago counterfeit cancer drugs were seldom seen. In 2011, the industry-funded Pharmaceutical Security Institute said they ranked 8 among the top 10 most targeted meds, The Wall Street Journal reports. Most are turning up in Asia and the Middle East, but as the amount of fakes increases globally, there is a greater chance some will make their way into Europe and the U.S. The counterfeit of Roche's ($RHHBY) Avastin that surfaced in the  the U.S. is believed to have come from companies tied to CanadaDrugs.com and it may have originated in China, The Wall Street Journal said. CanadaDrugs was also recently identified by the FDA as the source of unapproved and potentially counterfeit Botox that was supplied to 350 doctor groups. 

The industry is fighting back. Simeon Wilson, global security director at AstraZeneca ($AZN), tells the newspaper that many of the counterfeits come from the Chinese city of Guangzhou, where he said there are "thousands and thousands" of counterfeiters operating. AstraZeneca now has four dedicated staffers in China charged with hunting down which companies are counterfeiting and collecting evidence against them. When they have evidence against them, they turn the case over to Chinese authorities for disposition.

"When we do it, and do it properly, the Chinese authorities have never turned us down," he tells the newspaper. 

- read the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)

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