At a glance: Expert urges action on counterfeit drugs trade

Who is saying what?
In a book, Coincidence Or Crisis?, launched last week, Peter Pitts argues that drug companies must do more to tackle the problem of counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain. The World Health Organisation claims counterfeits make up between five and eight per cent of all medicines sold.

What is Pitts's background?
Currently senior V-P for global health affairs at Manning Selvage & Lee, he was formerly an associate commissioner at the US Food and Drug Administration. He is also director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), a New York-based drugs policy charity.

What does he say pharma companies should do?
For a start, don't hide the problem. Pitts says they should aim to ‘be seen as the white knight, the protector of public health'. This is a reputation challenge and patients want to believe that drugs companies are working in their interests to develop safe and effective medicines. Pitts also says a legislative and regulatory review is urgently needed in the EU to control counterfeiting.

So presumably lobbying is crucial?
Pitts says not yet. He is calling on the pharma industry in Europe to educate the public, so that they demand legislators take action. He says parallel trade, the process by which drugs can be sold on from one country to another at a reduced price, is the ‘weak link' that counterfeiters exploit.

But isn't this mainly a problem in poorer countries?
While many counterfeits originate in Africa and Asia, it would be a mistake to think so. In July last year the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency recalled all UK stock of one batch of Pfizer's Lipitor after counterfeit products were found.

Can counterfeit drugs kill you?
They are unlikely to make you fall down foaming at the mouth - it's not in counterfeiters' interest to harm their market. But they are equally unlikely to offer you the same therapeutic benefit as the real thing.

For further information visit www.cmpi.org

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