Pfizer CEO: More than 50 fakes of our drugs discovered last year

While publicity has focused on the counterfeit Avastin recently discovered in the U.S., the problem of fakes is much more widespread than the pubic realizes.

In a far-ranging interview with The Financial Times, Pfizer ($PFE) CEO Ian Read (photo) said the company confirmed more than 50 fakes of its drugs in at least 101 countries just last year.

He did not disclose what drugs were faked, but Read said he welcomed proposed U.S. legislation that would push penalties for counterfeiters to up to 20 years in prison.

Roche, ($RHHBY) whose Genentech unit makes Avastin, along with the FDA announced in February that counterfeit versions of the cancer treatment had been shipped to doctors' clinics in California, Texas and Illinois. Tests showed the fakes contained salt, starch and chemicals but no active ingredient. The FDA and the company have yet to discover the origin of the drug; however, an investigation has shown that it traveled around the world before making its way into the U.S. through companies in Canada.

An investigation by The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2010, fake Avastin was found in Shanghai and in Syria a year earlier. The issue has again prompted discussions of whether unique labeling or other procedures are needed to protect against counterfeits, which can be useless and deadly. Counterfeits have been more of a problem in developing countries that have less stringent oversight. But with the money that can be made, there are fears more fakes will start showing up in places like the U.S. and Europe.

- check out the FT story