Roche's Avastin and MabThera are added to list of those stolen in Italy

Authorities in Europe have added two Roche cancer drugs to their list of stolen meds that wholesalers and healthcare providers should be on the lookout for. That brings the tally to 5 drugs that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) says should be closely examined for signs of tampering.

According to the EMA, Italian police now say that vials of Roche's ($RHHBY) Avastin and MabThera are among the drugs that were stolen from hospitals there. On April 16, the EMA had warned about stolen vials of Roche's Herceptin. The next day it said vials of Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Alimta, another cancer drug, as well as Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) arthritis blockbuster Remicade, had also been stolen. All are among the bestselling drugs in the world.

The drugs surfaced in Britain, Finland and Germany. Testing found that some of the vials of Herceptin, which came with falsified records, did not contain the injectable cancer drugs' active ingredient. Others had it but showed signs of tampering or dilution. Authorities were initially tipped off when a British wholesaler alerted the Italian drug regulator AIFA it had found "anomalies" when buying Herceptin from Farmaceutica Internazionale, an Italian wholesaler.

AIFA Director Domenico Di Giorgio

Some experts have said that the Camorra--an Italian organized-crime syndicate originating from Naples--was involved, as well as groups in eastern Europe and a Russian citizen based in Cyprus. Domenico Di Giorgi, head of the anticounterfeiting group for AIFA, told Reuters at the time that Italy has become a "breeding ground" for stolen prescription drugs. He said the drugs are then shipped across Europe and that it had become a lucrative business for organized crime. "The network is a kind of giant washing machine for illegally acquired products that focuses on expensive hospital drugs but also steals cargoes from trucks," Di Giorgio told Reuters.

If the drugs make their way into the European supply chain, there is a chance some will also end up in the U.S. Last year, authorities found counterfeits of Allergan's ($AGN) cosmetic drug Botox in the country. In 2012, the FDA found that fraudulent versions of Roche's cancer treatment Avastin had been sold to physician practices throughout the U.S. The FDA and Department of Justice have also been prosecuting a number of cases in which versions of drugs manufactured for foreign markets but unapproved in the U.S. have been sold to American physician practices--including some of Roche's cancer meds.

- here's the latest EMA alert
- and an earlier alert