According to a report in the Wall Street Journal -- About three years before counterfeit copies of Roche Holding AG's cancer drug Avastin surfaced in the U.S., a case in Syria involved fakes of the same drug, showing the company has been grappling with bootlegging of the product for some time.
In 2009, Syrian authorities seized a haul of phony Avastin at a warehouse there, a Roche document shows. The company confirms the case, and acknowledges it has encountered other "individual cases" of counterfeit Avastin in recent years. Until now, the only other known case of Avastin counterfeits, other than the recent U.S. case, was a 2010 incident in Shanghai.
According to officials in law enforcement and the pharmaceutical industry, at least three smugglers were jailed as a result of hauls in Egypt and Syria in 2009 that netted the fake Avastin and other counterfeits drugs. These people said the trio -- who officials said were part of the same counterfeiting network -- were released from Syrian and Egyptian jails last year.
It's unclear whether the Middle East currently produces fake drugs, acts as a transit corridor, or both. Evidence suggests many counterfeits that transit through the Middle East are produced in China. In the same Syrian raids that netted the fake Avastin in 2009, officials found other fake drugs packaged in Chinese-language bags. Authorities also found Chinese-manufactured equipment that the criminals were using to produce fake drugs.
In the 2010 case of counterfeit Avastin that surfaced in Shanghai, 116 patients were given a fake version of the drug. In addition to being used against cancer, Avastin is prescribed to treat an eye disease that causes blindness. The Chinese patients received injections in the eye, and some suffered complications, according to a report on the incident published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.