FDA Finds Another Fake Cancer Drug, Avastin, in the U.S.

(April 5, 2012)  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has confirmed another counterfeit supply of the cancer drug bevacizumab, known as Avastin, being sold in the U.S.  The batch of 120 vials of fake Avastin was shipped through the U.K. from Turkey.  Less than two months ago, the FDA announced an investigation into a different batch of fake Avastin distributed to doctors in several states.

The counterfeit drug, which the FDA says contains no active ingredient, is posing as the injectable cancer medication Altuzan (bevacizumab) 400 mg/16ml. Altuzan is a Roche cancer medication approved for use in Turkey, but not in the United States. Reuters said that authentic Altuzan has Turkish language on the packaging, whereas the counterfeit version has English language on the package. The FDA said packaging or vials that claim to be Altuzan with lot number B6021 are counterfeit.

Avastin is used to treat colorectal, lung, kidney, breast, and ovarian cancer, and is among Roche’s top selling drugs, with sales at $5.8 billion, $5.3 billion Swiss francs, or $4.4 billion euros in 2011.

“Medical practices that purchase and administer illegal and unapproved foreign medications are putting patients at risk of exposure to drugs that may be fake, contaminated, improperly stored and transported, ineffective, and dangerous,” the FDA said in a statement. Some of the problem may be that the drug has no active ingredient, or the problem could be that all the ingredients are bad.  “Even if the identified drugs were not counterfeit, Altuzan is not approved by the FDA for use in the United States,” the FDA statement said.

Doctors bought the counterfeit drugs through Richards Pharma, a distributor that also does business as Richards Services, Warwick Healthcare Solutions, and Ban Dune Marketing Inc.  Richards Pharma is based in Britain, while Ban Dune is a now defunct company from LaJolla, California. Earlier this year, the head of Ban Dune was indicted and pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiring to distribute counterfeit prescription drugs. British authorities said U.K. based Richard’s Pharma Ltd. purchased 120 packs of the counterfeit medicine from a Turkish wholesaler. He sent 38 packs directly to the U.S. Then, an additional 82 counterfeit vials were shipped to the U.S. by River East Supplies, which is owned by Canadian businessman Tom Haughton. Haughton is already under investigation from the first incident of fake drugs entering the U.S. in February. He is accused of selling the drug for $2,000 a vial, which is $400 less than the manufacturer’s price.

The Turkish outfit isn’t the only tough-to-find middleman that handled the fake Avastin. Hadicon AG, a Swiss drug distributor, said they ordered what they thought was the real drug from an Egyptian company called Sawa, and he provided a phone number for Sawa, even though Egypt’s health ministry said it has no record of Sawa.

It is so unfair that innocent cancer patients could be endangering their lives by receiving bogus cancer drugs from their very own physicians. If these injectable cancer medications are not FDA approved, the physicians have no business treating their sick patients with it.  Especially since this is not the first time this has happened.  Is this justice?

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