Eli Lilly CEO endorses anti-counterfeiting campaign in China

China, considered a key global source of counterfeit drugs, has picked up a new partner in its fight to tame that problem. The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) is ramping up a campaign there to work with the Chinese government. The effort was endorsed by the CEO of Eli Lilly ($LLY), a company that has invested heavily in the country.

"The biopharmaceutical industry applauds the PSM China initiative as an innovative solution to protect patients and improve drug safety," said Lilly CEO John Lechleiter. "Make no mistake: Pharmaceutical counterfeiting--and drug safety in general--is not China's problem, or the task of any one country. It is a shared global public health priority, and, therefore, a domestic concern in the United States, EU, China and many other countries all over the world. And one resounding lesson is that we can all benefit by working together."

PSM, which is made up of 70 nonprofits, said the event brought together Chinese government officials, representatives from industry and PSM volunteers. The group works to educate consumers about how to spot and avoid counterfeit drugs in an effort to reduce the market for them.

Scott LaGanga, who is executive director of PSM and vice president of public affairs and advocacy at the trade association PhRMA, said in an interview that the group had worked with local members of healthcare and industry and with government officials for a year to customize a program there. In addition to teaching best practices, PSM' role will be to coordinate efforts among the local players. He said they all were already addressing the problem individually but were not talking among themselves. "You can't say we have done it this way in India or Thailand and take a cookie-cutter approach and export it to China."

Pointing to a recent sweep of counterfeit drug manufacturers in China, Bai Huiliang, chairman of PSM China and a former official in China SFDA, said, "China's resolve in protecting its citizens from the dangers of counterfeit drugs has yielded great results and shows tremendous potential for the future." In August, Chinese police arrested 2,000 people suspected of counterfeiting and seized fake drugs they said were valued at $182 million. While an impressive display of might, the bigger problem is that China and India are believed to account for about 80% of APIs sold in the U.S. and both countries are known to have lax oversight. 

Counterfeiting is a problem that Big Pharma is fighting against. Responding to an editorial in The New York Times about counterfeit drugs, John Clark, Pfizer's ($PFE) chief security officer, said "counterfeit medicines are a high-profit, low-risk criminal activity that puts patients' lives at risk." He said that in the last decade by working with law enforcement agencies all over the world, the company had prevented 160 million counterfeit tablets from getting into the hands of consumers.

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Special Report: Top counterfeit drug events in 2012 - China