Police probe wholesalers for selling subsidized drugs outside of Spain

In what is shaping into a major pharma supply chain scandal in Spain, investigators have accused one of the country's largest wholesalers of diverting millions of euros' worth of drugs subsidized by the government to the black market.

Alliance Healthcare is said to be at the center of a 5-month investigation by police that has also targeted 7 small wholesalers and more than three dozen people, according to El País. The newspaper says police have recorded phone calls by an employee of Alliance Healthcare, who allegedly has ties to organized crime, saying there was a unit within Alliance set up to arrange for storage of drugs that were being diverted. It reported that drugs were sold by Alliance to other wholesalers and back again to create paper trails that covered up where the drugs actually went. The company has declined to comment, the publication said.

"If the charges are proved, they will have caused serious damage to pharmaceutical laboratories, the national health service, and at the end of the day, patients, because what has been going on could have meant that certain medicines will not have been available," according to a recently unsealed summary of the investigation, El País reports.

In an effort to right debt-laden economies, many EU national health systems have cut back on what they pay for some drugs. Spain has been particularly aggressive on that front. That has led to the problem of so-called parallel trade, in which different countries have different drug pricing, varying sometimes as much as 200%. That has enticed wholesalers to shop their drugs outside their home countries. In the face of pending price cuts in the U.K. last year, several trade associations asked the government to require drugmakers to meet certain supply levels there to prevent shortages.

- read the El País story