Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Controversy brewing over fake drugs


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IT’S A STORY the Canadian executives of a Barbados company would like to go away. But that seems unlikely.

Two years after a Barbados company found itself drawn into an international controversy over alleged shipments of a fake cancer drug, the issue has resurfaced in Canada.

And as happened before, Rockley Ventures, a Barbados-based subsidiary of Canada Drugs Limited is being thrown into what can become a public relations, if not a legal, snake-pit.

According to a report published recently by the Toronto Globe & Mail, one of Canada’s national daily papers, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), has searched the offices of Canada Drugs Limited, the parent of Rockley Ventures, but it was unable to explain why the investigation was undertaken at this time.

No one from the RCMP, Canada Drugs Limited or Rockley Ventures commented to the paper on the story, the search or the reasons for it. The probe by the RCMP, Canada’s equivalent of the United States (US) Federal Bureau of Investigations and Britain’s Scotland Yard, has ignited considerable interest in the 2013 case that focused on alleged shipments of a faked cancer drug to patients and doctors in the US.

News organisations across Europe, North America and the Caribbean ran the story.

“The Mounties’ recent search of Canada Drugs Limited offices comes two years after US authorities accused the Winnipeg firm of organizing a shipment of fake cancer drugs south of the border [into the US], touching off a counterfeit pharmaceutical scandal that made headlines worldwide,” stated the Globe & Mail.

“The Avastin affair continues to reverberate, as the latest in a string of physicians prosecuted for buying it and other ‘misbranded’ products from Canada Drugs was convicted this month,” the report added. “Robert Walker, a Joplin, Mo., (Missouri) oncologist paid CAN$2 million in fines and restitutions.”

It should be noted that the owners and other executives of Canada Drugs Limited or Rockley Ventures were ever accused of or charged with knowingly shipping the fake cancer drug to any part of the world. Indeed, a Rockley Ventures official was quoted back then as saying the firm had no idea at the time that the drugs were fake and when they found out the facts of the case all shipments were immediately ended.

In short, they were victims and not perpetrators of any criminal behaviour.

That may explain why US authorities didn’t bring any legal action against them.

However, US law enforcement agencies ended up prosecuting an American who allegedly took part in it and seized the equivalent of $9 million in land, cash and an expensive car.

Officials and executives familiar with the Avastin affair say they are convinced last month’s RCMP search of Canada Drugs Limited’s offices could be traced to the cancer-drug affair.

As a matter of fact, Jim Dahl, a retired senior official of the US Food and Drug Administration, speculated there was a link between the recent raid and the Avastin issue.

“Do I think it is related to the Avastin thing? Absolutely, I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Dahl, a director of Partnership for Safe Medicines, an organisation funded by the pharmaceutical industry, was quoted as saying.

Shipments of the fake drug were said to have passed through several countries, including Egypt, Switzerland, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US.

The need for Internet pharmacies was traced to the escalating costs of drugs in the US, the world’s richest market where medications can cost up to twice what internet pharmacies next door in Canada charge individuals.

At the height of the boom in the operations of such pharmacies, dozens of them belonged to Canadian International Pharmacies Association, an industry organisation.

The membership is said to have declined sharply because the industry has consolidated, just like other businesses.

The pharmacies made hundreds of millions of dollars for their owners who sold brand name medications through personal mail orders and the Internet.

More than a million Americans and their doctors turn annually to Internet pharmacies for high-priced medications.

The US pharmaceutical industry is up in arms over the Internet pharmacies fearing a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.


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