Stronger European policies are needed to combat the rise in fake drugs, says a new report from London’s School of Pharmacy, which notes the growing interest in new medicines for diseases such as cancer, dementia and influenza could fuel the rise in counterfeits.

Some 30% of medicines supplied in developing countries are fake, according to recent World Health Organisation statistics, a figure that drops to 10% in Eastern European countries and less than 1% in the UK. However, points out the report, of the 25 new cases being investigated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, three involve fake treatments being supplied via the National Health Service’s supply chain.

Professor David Taylor of the School of Pharmacy points out: “The present system encourages traders to buy modern medicines cheaply in parts of Europe where governments impose low prices, and sell them on in new packages in EU member states where government controlled prices are higher. People think this saves money. But the evidence explored in our report indicates that it is in fact undermining European economic interests and may, on occasions, have created a pharmacy culture that increases counterfeit medicine hazards.”

The authors are calling for stronger legal penalties for medicine counterfeiting and say they also support reform in other areas, from greater freedom of regulated medicines information provision in Europe to better controls over internet pharmacy and medicines trading. Importantly, the School of Pharmacy backs a strong patent system to fund medicines research and says without assets such as the research-based pharmaceutical industry “Europe’s economic future will be bleak.”

“Shortening medicine supply chains between pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies should help protect the public from counterfeit medicines. So might ‘track and trace’ technologies that could allow product movements within Europe to be followed more closely by the responsible regulatory agencies. While consumer protection is being strengthened, European decision makers may wish to consider the costs and benefits of precautionary measures, such as suspending the free movement of medicines across the Union’s internal borders,” the report concludes.