The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has unveiled its new anti-counterfeiting strategy to further crack down on fake medicines entering the UK supply chain.

Building on the successes of its first action plan, the new Falsified Medical Products Strategy 2012-2015 is designed to further tackle counterfeit medicines and devices in the UK, bringing together stakeholders and international partners under a combined effort to raise public awareness of the problem and carry out enforcement policy.

The MHRA's new strategy has, broadly speaking, a double-pronged aim: to further reduce the risks to patients in the UK from the threat from counterfeit medicinal goods, and to make it riskier for those partaking in such illegal activities.

This, it says, it will achieve in three ways: prevention, by implementing measures to stop fake medicines from reaching patients; incident management, to ensure that reports of suspected counterfeits are investigated quickly and efficiently, with product recalls where necessary; and investigation, to thoroughly investigate and prosecute where appropriate.

Speaking to PharmaTimes UK News, a spokesman for the MHRA said that, compared with the previous strategy, the new one places "a large emphasis on 'prevention', though implementation of the EU's Falsified Medicines Directive which will significantly help in securing the legitimate supply chain to prevent penetration of falsified medicines".

In addition, it also describes "the swift MHRA response that would take place should an incident occur", he said.

Raising public awareness is also a crucial element of the plan, and the MHRA is "utilising social media to reach mass audiences and will be engaging in targeted campaigns in partnership with key stakeholders to ensure that the public are in a position where they can make informed decisions about where they obtain their medicines from".

Counterfeit medicines are a huge problem across the globe, and the UK is certainly an attractive destination, given its large and complex supply chain and huge medicines market, estimated at £8,000 million in 2009. 

UK "attractive" to counterfeiters

Indeed, the Agency notes that international collaboration has revealed "clear evidence" that the UK pharmaceutical market its still attractive to counterfeiters, but Nimo Ahmed, the MHRA's acting head of enforcement stressed that it is "committed to working closely with international partners and providing leadership in dealing with this issue to protect public health and maintain public confidence in the way we obtain our medicinal products".

Since its first strategy launched in 2007, against a backdrop of a growing number of cases where fake medicinal products had breached the regulated UK supply chain, the Agency says it has racked up a number of successes in the war against counterfeiters. 

Over the last five years, it has seized more than £25 million worth of fake medical products, and its activities have "contributed to a marked reduction in known incidents of counterfeit medicinal products entering the regulated supply chain".

In 2010, a co-ordinated international operation to tackle the internet sale of illegal medicines resulted in the capture of over two million doses around the world, the closure of nearly 500 websites, and the arrest of 90 individuals.

Last year, more than 13,500 illegal websites were taken down and 2.5 million doses of counterfeit drugs were seized, in the largest such operation to date. 

And just last month the MHRA made its largest ever confiscation order - £14.4 million - against a UK individual after he was convicted for selling and supplying both fake and unlicensed drugs.