Pfizer yesterday spoke out against counterfeit drugs and called for the British government and European authorities to safeguard the integrity of the medicines supply chain. The firm’s stance was made following the recall of a batch Pfizer’s number one selling drug – the cholesterol-lowerer Lipitor (atorvastatin) – in the UK earlier this week after fake tablets were uncovered.

The UK’s drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, recalled packs of Lipitor 20mg bearing the batch number 004405K1 and pointed out that, although there are some distinguishing features between the genuine and counterfeit product, patient risks will be minimised by recalling all remaining stock.

Meanwhile, this week, the MHRA has also revealed that a man has been arrested in connection with the alleged supply, via the Internet, of counterfeit drugs used for erectile dysfunction. The counterfeit medicines, 300 tablets of another Pfizer drug - Viagra (sildenafil) - and 10 tablets of Eli Lilly’s Cialis (tadalafil), had a street value of over £5,000.

Pfizer said in a statement this morning: “The discovery serves as a strong reminder of the vulnerability of the distribution system in much of Europe, which is being exploited with increasing frequency by criminals.” It has called upon the UK government and European authorities to ban the repackaging of medicines by third parties, to support the introduction of tamper-resistant packaging and new medicine delivery mechanisms, and to introduce standardised barcode system for medicines.

And the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry added its voice in saying that the discovery of the counterfeit medicine appears to be an

isolated incident but that it would back a further tightening of the supply

system for medicines.