Big Pharma puts funds into Interpol effort to thwart counterfeiters

Big Pharma sees drug counterfeiting as a major problem as international criminals find new ways to get fake drugs, even counterfeit cancer meds, into the legitimate supply chain. Now more than two dozen drugmakers are chipping in dollars, euros and pounds to help the international crime fighter Interpol do a better job of tracking them down.

The 29 companies are providing the investigative agency with €4.5 million ($5.9 million) over three years so that Interpol can train local authorities throughout the world on how to ferret out counterfeits, according to the Associated Press. That averages to less than $70,000 a year per company but makes a big difference to the agency in lean times. Aline Plançon, who oversees Interpol's counterfeiting program from Lyon, France, told the news agency that tight budgets and demands to fight other high-profile crime like terrorism have made it hard for Interpol to keep up.

Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter, current chairman of the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said counterfeiters are quick to adapt to efforts to rout them out. The companies hope the money will help Interpol keep local authorities a step ahead of criminals. "This is really meant to cement some of these efforts together," he said. "After the initial (three-year) period, depending on the results, we can certainly extend that out."

The companies joining the effort include a "Who's Who" of international pharma companies: Amgen ($AMGN), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Eli Lilly ($LLY), Merck ($MRK), Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer ($PFE), Sanofi ($SNY) and Roche ($RHHBY) are among them. Erectile dysfunction drugs from Pfizer and Lilly are probably the most copied, but counterfeiters have moved up to pricier and more lifesaving drugs like Roche's cancer drug Avastin.

The U.S. FDA several times last year alerted physician practices that what they believed were Avastin or other cancer drugs were in fact fakes and would not only do patients no good but could be harmful. Just last month, the FDA said doctors had bought fakes of Altuzan (bevacizumab), which is the trade name for Avastin in Turkey.

- here's the AP story

Special Report: Top counterfeit drug events in 2012