24 August 2006 | Paul Snell
The UK government agency responsible for drug safety is refusing calls from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer to increase supply chain security after counterfeit drugs reached patients for the fifth time in two years.
Pfizer appealed to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and to European authorities. It wants the repackaging of drugs by third parties to be banned; support for tamper-proof wrapping; more resources committed to combating this type of organised crime; and stricter penalties for counterfeiters.
It also called for law enforcement agencies to investigate how counterfeiters had managed to imitate Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug - and infiltrate the supply chain for the third time. The MHRA is conducting a criminal investigation into the counterfeiting.
The MHRA issued a drug alert this month after it discovered counterfeit packs of Lipitor in the supply chain. However, it said it will not support the call to ban repacking by third parties, because none of the cases where fake drugs reached patients involved repackaged medicine. The agency added that it was satisfied with levels of resources to combat problems.
Pfizer said it was tackling the counterfeiting through measures such as the introduction of tamper-proof packaging.
The fake drugs were uncovered after the MHRA discovered the breach by following a paper trail in an ongoing investigation into counterfeit drugs. The penalty for supplying counterfeit drugs is up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine.