Dealing with Counterfeit Medicines in the Supply Chain

May 28, 2014
Categories: Counterfeit

By Allen Dixon, IP Counsel

According to the World Health Organization, up to 1% of the medicines sold in developed countries and 10% of those sold in developing countries are fakes—a problem that raises significant risks for consumer health and safety.  Recent studies and reports on this topic, including a new survey released in May in Europe, demonstrate the lack of awareness that consumers have, as well as the need for better information sharing and supply chain management in this area.

The results of a survey conducted by Happycurious for Sanofi and reported on May 15 showed that only 20% of Europeans associate the term “counterfeiting” with medicines.  77% feel that they are ignorant about fake drugs or do not have sufficient information on the subject.  The survey was conducted among 5,010 people in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

This survey also found that most consumers (90%) believe that the Internet is the primary potential source of fake drugs.  A broader report by the International Chamber Commerce (ICC) on government procurement has shown, however, that counterfeits can and do enter the legitimate, largely state-run medical supply chains in Europe as well.  In the words of the ICC:

“Among the estimated 1% of counterfeit products that have found their way into Europe’s extensively state-funded medical procurement systems have been counterfeit medicines for heart conditions and strokes (Plavix (clopidogrel)), prostate cancer (Casodex (bicalutamide)), high cholesterol (Lipitor), obesity (Reductil (sibutramine)), asthma (Seretid), and schizophrenia (Zyprexa (olanzapine)).”

CREATe‘s whitepaper on Government Procurement: Driving Responsible Business Practices has explained how this can happen: Medicines can “change hands up to 30 times before reaching a British chemist (pharmacist)”, for example.

All of these studies and reports highlight not only the importance of good awareness and information sharing, but also of effective supply chain management in the pharmaceutical field.  The ICC highlights in particular the need for good contractual provisions, proof of licenses, and due diligence in dealing with such suppliers. CREATe’s recommendations include

  • Promoting transparency in supply chains,
  • Encouraging greater supply chain accountability,
  • Developing risk maps to identify high-risk supply chain activities, and
  • Fostering cooperation and information sharing.

This is a matter of health and safety for all of us!

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