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MHRA plays vital role in £6.5m global drugs bust

UK News | October 05, 2012

Ben Adams

The UK drugs’ regulator says it has played a key part in seizing millions of pounds worth of fake medicines across the world. 

More than £6.5 million worth of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines has been seized across the globe as part of a week-long international crackdown on the illicit internet trade in medicines.

In conjunction with the UK Border Force, the British drugs’ regulator the MHRA seized more than 2.3 million doses of unlicensed medicine worth around £3.8 million, including 68,000 doses of counterfeit pills.

Dubbed ‘Operation Pangea V’, this week-long crackdown ran between 25 September and 2 October and resulted in 79 people being arrested worldwide. It also saw around 18,000 illegal online pharmacy websites being shut down through domain name or payment facility removal.

Operation Pangea is an international initiative to target the illegal internet trade in pharmaceutical products and was first instigated by the MHRA in April 2006.

This operation is the largest internet-targeting enforcement action of its kind with 100 countries participating in this year’s event.

Internationally, preliminary results show that more than 133,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs officials resulting in the seizure of over 3.7 million doses of unlicensed and counterfeit pills.

In the UK, enforcement officers from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - with assistance from local police - arrested two people and raided ten addresses in connection with the illegal internet supply of medicines. Additionally, eight computers were seized as well as financial correspondence.

The types of medicines the MHRA and police found were for an array of conditions, including those for: asthma, narcolepsy, breast cancer, cholesterol reduction, skin conditions, antibiotics, anti-histamines, anti-malarial, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, anti-depressants, and eye medicines.

Spam emails

The MHRA is also working with the Metropolitan Police Service's Central eCrime Unit, and international partners, to tackle spam emails received by people advertising unlicensed and counterfeit medicines.

These spam emails come from affiliate pharmacy networks that are run by organised crime groups. The MHRA and the PCeU have joined forces with a number of large corporations and organisations – including Microsoft and the FBI - to tackle the internet infrastructure that facilitates this criminality by targeting seven of the largest spam networks.

Detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie, head of the Police Central e-Crime Unit, said: "This type of crime causes significant harm to the UK economy, generating millions of pounds of criminal profit. The MHRA's International Internet Week of Action continues to form part of our wider remit to protect people from internet-facilitated crime."

Pharma fights back

Pharma has struggled for years with trying to crackdown on counterfeit medicines as it can take serious chunks out of its revenues. Pfizer has been one of the most targeted given the popularity of its drugs – especially its ED drug Viagra – and has spent much time and money tackling this problem.

Its most public campaign has been the ‘Realdanger. Get Real, Get a Prescription’ that has its own website and a dedicated counterfeit team within Pfizer. All pharma firms will be pleased with last week’s results, and will continue to push for these fake and unlicensed medicines to be destroyed.  

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