A British citizen was just sentenced by United States authorities to prison time and a substantial fine over distributing bogus prescription drugs.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Missouri said that Richard J. Taylor of Warwickshire, England was sentenced to 18 months prison time and an $80,000 fine for distributing adulterated Avastin, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Avastin is an injectable cancer medication that works by blocking a protein important for the formation of blood vessels. Tumors rely on blood vessels to receive the nutrients they need to survive; Avastin is believed to work by preventing the formation of new blood vessels that feed the tumor and is approved to treat brain, colorectal, lung, and kidney cancers.
In a plea agreement, Taylor admitted to selling a Turkish, and fake, version of Avastin to U.S. doctors, the Missouri U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement, according to The Journal, which was unable to reach Taylor for comment. There was no answer at Taylor’s U.K.-based distribution company, Richard’s Pharma Ltd.
Last year, counterfeit versions of Avastin surfaced, shocking physicians and cancer patients and prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and law enforcement officials to strengthen action against overseas suppliers involved in shipping the fake cancer medications to the U.S., according to The Journal.
The overseas distributors appear to be based in countries such as Canada and the U.K. and say their business involves legitimate prescriptions. Authorities in this country disagree, saying the trade is illegal as the drugs imported to the U.S. are not inspected by federal regulators or packaged in FDA-approved packaging, The Journal explained. Some doctors in the U.S. buy the foreign drugs because they are typically priced lower than versions approved by the FDA.
Taylor’s plea agreement indicates that he imported Altuzan, the Turkish brand name for Avastin, to the U.S. in May 2011. Taylor was notified that “immediate bad reactions” were seen in two patients during infusions with his Altuzan, according to the Missouri U.S. attorney’s office. One patient “started to shake in the middle of being transfused and had to be disconnected from treatment,” according to the plea agreement, The Journal reported.
We previously wrote that a counterfeit Avastin investigation spanned from California, to Turkey, to Egypt. The drug was discovered in the U.S., purchased in Turkey, and shipped through Britain by the U.K.-based firm. The fake Avastin did not contain the key ingredient in Avastin, bevacizumab. The crimes served to further draw attention to weaknesses in the worldwide medical supply chain, which leaves patients vulnerable to ineffective or tainted drugs.
The Avastin issue is of concern because, noted Reuters previously, counterfeiters had focused on simple pills. Avastin, a complex injectable biotech medication, is different from what has previously been seen.
In addition to the prison sentence and fine, Taylor agreed to forfeit about $3.2 million of his interest in the matter; some of which was seized during the investigation at a U.K. bank, according to the statement, The Journal reported. “This sentence aptly reflects the serious nature of this crime,” said Patrick J. Holland, special agent in charge of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations in Kansas City, in the statement. “The FDA will aggressively pursue all those who seek to profit from causing the importation and distribution of foreign drugs that are adulterated and misbranded.”
Richard’s Pharma was also linked to more counterfeit Avastin that turned up in the U.S. last April. Those drugs also originated in Turkey, Britain’s medicines regulator said at the time, wrote The Journal. Richard’s Pharma sold batches in the U.S. and to U.K. distributor, River East Supplies, which also exported the fake Avastin to the U.S., the British regulator said. River East Supplies is controlled by Canada Drugs, an Internet pharmaceutical firm involved in shipping counterfeit Avastin to the U.S. According to The Journal, in early 2013, a salesman marketing cancer drugs in the U.S. for Canada Drugs pleaded guilty to a federal charge of covering up a felony that as committed by his colleagues, court documents indicated.