Feds nab two men from Turkey in effort to counter counterfeits

Labels on shipments to a St. Louis, MO, suburb, arranged by two men from Turkey, said they contained "gifts" and "documents." Instead, federal prosecutors and the FDA said the shipments were illegal, and sometimes counterfeit, cancer drugs being smuggled in from outside the U.S.

The accusations were laid out in indictments against Ozkan Semizoglu, 39, and Sabahaddin Akman, 40, both of Istanbul, who were arrested in Puerto Rico on Jan. 16. The two men were each charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle merchandise into the United States and three counts of smuggling. They face up to 20 years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000 for each charge.

Some of the drugs the two men allegedly shipped should have been sent in temperature-controlled containers but were not, according to the FDA, which posted the announcement of the indictments to its website this week. One shipment--alluded to in an earlier indictment in the case--arrived at the office of St. Louis-area oncologist Abid Nisar as a "gooey mess."

The charges stem from a case launched in 2012 after counterfeit versions of Roche's ($RHHBY) Avastin were found in the U.S. Nisar has pleaded to a misdemeanor for selling the misbranded prescriptions, Fox News said. Federal authorities earlier got a conviction against James Newcomb of La Jolla, CA, who pleaded guilty to charges that he shipped foreign versions of prescription drugs to Nisar and other doctors around the U.S. With help from companies in Canada and the United Kingdom, Newcomb offered the drugs to U.S. doctors at discounts of 14% to 60% off their usual wholesale prices, telling them they could save "40 cents on every dollar spent on oncology medications."

The FDA and federal authorities have stepped up efforts since the counterfeit Avastin was first uncovered, but counterfeits continue to be found slipping into the drug supply. Last month, the co-owner of Arlington, VA-based Gallant Pharma International pleaded guilty to a host of charges related to buying and selling misbranded and unapproved drugs to doctors in the U.S., including a foreign version of Allergan's ($AGN) Botox. The feds have also targeted doctors that they believe knowingly bought the illegal products in an effort to save money.

- here's the FDA release
- more from Fox News

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