Meds from foreign plants complicate counterfeit search

A counterfeit of Roche's Altuzan was shipped to providers from Medical Device King.--Courtesy of the FDA

Some doctors, in an effort to save money, have been enticed to buy drugs through wholesalers who claim to get them from legitimate suppliers overseas. Sometimes the drugs are real meds made at foreign plants. But sometimes they have turned out to be counterfeits.

That was the case this week when the FDA reported that two more batches of counterfeits of Roche's ($RHHBY) cancer drug Avastin had been discovered in the U.S. The drugs are labeled as Altuzan, the trade name for the drug in Turkey, but tests on one batch confirmed that the drugs did not contain active ingredient. In a warning to healthcare providers, the agency pointed out that even if the Altuzan (bevacizumab) was not counterfeit, only Roche's Avastin is approved by the FDA for sale in the U.S. The FDA said the drugs had been shipped to some providers from New York-based Medical Device King, which is also known as Pharmalogical.

The fakes were reported almost a year to the day after the FDA warned that counterfeit Avastin had been discovered in the U.S. That prompted to the agency and law enforcement officials to launch an intensive investigation into how the drugs have made their way to doctor offices. At least some of the cancer drugs that have surfaced as part of the investigation were found to be legitimate cancer drugs made by Roche but in a plant not overseen by the FDA. That disclosure came in the case of a Tennessee doctor and his business manager who acknowledged that they bought $2 million in misbranded drugs from a Canadian wholesaler to save money. One of the drugs the center bought was rituximab, the foreign version of the cancer drug sold as Rituxan in the U.S. Investigators found that it was manufactured at a Roche plant in Switzerland, shipped to a distributor in India and then to the U.K. before being imported into the U.S.

While Viagra and other lifestyle drugs have been the most commonly faked drugs, cancer meds and other high-dollar drugs seem to be a new focus for fakers. Late last year, the FDA warned physician practices about potentially counterfeit Botox they had bought through companies tied to, a Winnipeg-based online drug supplier that the agency has been after for years.

- here's the FDA warning
- get more from The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)