A new report has highlighted the rise of pharmaceutical “brandjacking” for popular drugs, which is causing health concerns and damaging the reputation of the sector.

The analysis, published by MarkMonitor, highlights “a parallel online system of pharmaceutical supply and demand” which is being fuelled by continued growth in listings for medicines on business-to-business exchange sites as well as increased traffic to illicit pharmacies”. This is occurring against the backdrop of the healthcare reform debate and the medical profession bracing itself for another wave in H1N1 virus cases.

As a result, consumers are turning to the internet, says the report, with people visiting both legal and illicit online pharmacies. Also, offshore manufacturers “increasingly embrace B2B exchange sites to sell bulk quantities of branded prescription drugs, often of suspicious quality”. Therefore, cost savings and efficiencies of e-commerce “become even more attractive, presenting a tempting opportunity for online fraud and brand abuse”.

MarkMonitor chose six leading prescription drugs and examined nearly 20,000 instances of cybersquatting, the practice of abusing trademarks within the domain name system, a rise of 9%. Some 75% of the cybersquatted pharmaceutical brands were lifestyle drugs

The report noted that of the 2,930 online pharmacies found in the study, only four were certified in the VIPPS programme by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the governing body for US pharmacies. Furthermore, the non-VIPPS sites offered discounts as high as 90% from the prices offered by certified websites, which indicate “that the products are of suspicious quality”.

Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer at MarkMonitor, said “scammers are opportunists, and by targeting the supply chain, they’re positioning themselves to move the greatest amount of fake product they can”. He added that “this maximises their return on the scam but it also poses a potential danger to peoples’ health and safety, not to mention brand reputation”.