Johnson & Johnson follows Gilead with lawsuit targeting alleged HIV drug counterfeiters

Often in court and on the defense, Johnson & Johnson is playing the plaintiff role in a lawsuit aimed at distributors and pharmacies who have allegedly been selling counterfeit HIV medicines.

In a suit unveiled on Tuesday, J&J claims that some products labeled as HIV treatments contained different HIV drugs or in at least one case included a drug to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The action follows a similar lawsuit from Gilead Sciences—filed in July of last year and unsealed in January—which claimed a network of distributors sold more than $250 million in counterfeit versions of its HIV drugs, mostly Biktarvy and Descovy.

In the J&J suit, the company says it was alerted to the counterfeit drugs through customer complaints and from the voluntary return of hundreds of bottles of counterfeit drugs from ProPharma Distribution. J&J filed its lawsuit earlier this month.

ProPharma is one of the defendants named, along with Safe Chain Solutions, Scripts Wholesale and I Care Pharmacy 14. J&J is seeking $25 million in damages from each of the defendants and for them to be banned from selling any of the company’s products.

In addition to J&J and Gilead conducting their own investigations, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the U.S. government has been looking into the matter since late last year. The federal probe also includes counterfeit versions of HIV drugs produced by GlaxoSmithKline.

In its filing, Gilead revealed that its investigation uncovered evidence that many of its drugs were bought from homeless or drug-addicted HIV patients and resold using false documentation. Gilead’s probe turned up more than 85,000 counterfeit bottles or fake documentation of their sale.

J&J has already faced (PDF) a counterfeiting issue, warning patients and distributors about fake versions of its HIV drug Symtuza.