Interpol and 29 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have launched another initiative to combat the spread of counterfeit drugs.

The three-year deal will see the drugmakers put in 4.5 million euros towards the creation of Interpol’s Pharmaceutical Crime Programme. It is hoped the initiative can further build on the work of the latter's Medical Product Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime unit and "enhance the law enforcement community’s response" to the problem through stronger partnership development.

The programme will focus on the prevention of all types of pharmaceutical crime including branded and generic drug counterfeiting as well as the identification and dismantling of organised crime networks "linked to this illegal activity, which generates millions in illicit profits every year".

Last year, Operation Pangea V, an Interpol initiative spanning 100 countries aimed at hitting the aforementioned crime networks hard resulted in some 80 arrests and the worldwide seizure of 3.75 million units of potentially life-threatening medicines worth $10.5 million.

Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said that "with no country, no drug, no medical product immune from counterfeiting, a global effort is needed to combat this threat". He added that the support from the pharmaceutical industry "forms a bridge between the public and private sectors" and will assist the police agency and its 190 member countries to more effectively tackle the problem. The programme will include "training, capacity-building and targeted enforcement actions to build awareness of the issue".

Sanofi chief executive Christopher Viehbacher said it is estimated that 10% of medicines are fake "and these figures can go up to 50%, particularly in some poorer countries". He added that this is why it is so important that industry members partner with Interpol "to coordinate law enforcement operations around the world so that we can help curtail the threat of counterfeit medicines online and at the retail level.”

Interpol noted that fake cough syrup and other medicines laced with diethylene glycol have caused eight mass poisonings around the world including in 2006 in Panama where more than 100 people died. In 2012, 109 heart patients in Pakistan died after taking fake medicine.