Pfizer cops chase criminals in fake drug trade

When your Viagra revenue is at stake, you'll do what it takes. To fight rampant counterfeiting of prescription drugs--including the oft-copied erectile dysfunction remedy--Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) fields its own crime-fighting force. Ex-U.S. customs officials, former FBI agents, Turkish narcotics experts and erstwhile Hong Kong police included.

And, as Bloomberg reports, they've delivered. Just consider the case of Martin Hickman, a dealer in fake Viagra. He may have made millions selling the knockoff pills--enough to buy a Spanish beach villa, a Bentley, and a London flat--but Pfizer has been on his tail, eventually freezing his assets to win a £1 million settlement. An investigation in China put a counterfeiting kingpin behind bars for 17 years.

The company has spent some $3.3 million on investigations and legal fees, recovering about $5.1 million. Plus, Pfizer estimates that it has kept 58 million counterfeit pills off the market since 2004, worth more than $860 million, Bloomberg reports.

Counterfeiting has become a huge business. Experts estimate that it's a $75 billion industry on its own, with suppliers that manufacture authentic looking holograms and packaging, plus manufacturing and distribution. By 2015, the global fake drug trade is expected to reach $90 billion.

- see the Bloomberg story
- check out the Top 10 Pharma Cargo Thefts, 2009/2010

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