Countering counterfeit drugs

Bill Reid of Eli Lilly and Company discusses the huge challenge that counterfeit drugs pose to the delivery of healthcare and the measures currently underway to tackle this problem.

(See Eli Lilly and Company’s last blog post “The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: achieving the potential“)

Counterfeit drugs remain one of the biggest threats to adequate health care across the globe. As I wrote earlier this year, 100,000 people die each year because of counterfeits, according to the American Enterprise Institute – and the World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of the global drug supply is counterfeit. When someone is relying upon genuine insulin to treat diabetes, or real antidepressants to treat depression, the number of fake drugs in the supply chain is woefully unacceptable.

Over the last month, we’ve seen significant progress that could help to limit the volume of counterfeits being accessed by patients.

Last month in the United States, President Obama signed the Drug Quality and Security Act. The new law authorizes enhanced track and trace procedures that will allow pharmacists and others in the U.S. health care supply chain to weed out counterfeit drugs as well as recalled medicines that have already left the manufacturer.

“Counterfeit drugs remain one of the biggest threats to adequate health care across the globe.”

And earlier this month, The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria launched an important new partnership designed to protect people from being harmed by fake medicines. Why is this important? Counterfeits can be deadly – and tragically, the volume of counterfeits entering the supply chain increases to 30 percent in some of the poorest nations in the world, primarily in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (ironically, the same regions desperate for medicines that treat deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria).

In fact, an estimated one-third of all malaria medicines in Africa are likely counterfeit, according to the Global Fund. Just imagine if one-third of all available food had already reached its expiration date, or if one-third of automobiles had faulty brakes. We need to have the same sense of urgency around counterfeit medicines.

Mark Dybul, executive director of the Global Fund, put it best: “We are at an historic moment. Effective treatments and technologies exist for HIV, TB and malaria and our challenge at the Global Fund is to get those effective interventions to all patients that need them. Fake medicines compromise our mission to save lives. We are delighted to join forces with IFPMA and invite other partners to join our efforts to get effective, safe, genuine treatments to the people who need them.”

The partnership between IFPMA and the Global Fund will focus on ensuring that authentic medicines reach people in need while preventing patients from being harmed by counterfeits – primarily via raising awareness, developing more comprehensive data, and building global capacity. (IFPMA represents research-based pharmaceutical companies and associations across the world).

“Fighting fakes isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet.”

This partnership will aim to build further upon the recently launched Fight the Fakes, a campaign that will raise awareness about the dangers of counterfeit medicines and their impact on our society. The campaign gives a voice to those who have been personally impacted by fake medicines and highlights the stories of those working to put a stop to this public health threat. The 10 founding partners of Fight the Fakes represent healthcare professionals, disease-focused organizations, product-development partnerships, foundations, international financing institutions, and the research-based pharmaceutical industry. The diversity of partners is one of the big assets of the campaign.

Fighting fakes isn’t easy, and there is no silver bullet. But Lilly is committed to the effort – and earlier this year, we joined 29 other leading pharmaceutical companies to invest €4.5 million into a three-year agreement with INTERPOL to enhance law enforcement’s response to all types of pharmaceutical crime, including the development and distribution of fake medicines. Protecting people from dangerous counterfeits will underscore integrity and confidence in our industry’s R&D work, including the steep investments that make it happen. And ensuring patients receive only authentic medicines that work as described – and as needed – is what will allow us to truly address critical global health crises around the world.

The next article in this series will be published in January.

About the author:

Bill Reid is the senior director of Global Anti-Counterfeiting Operations (GACO) at Eli Lilly and Company. In his role, Bill leads the implementation of Lilly’s global anti-counterfeiting strategy, including external focus on shaping the public policy environment. He participates in strategic outreach efforts, represents Lilly in meetings with key external stakeholders to raise awareness, and works with global Lilly affiliates to help coordinate efforts to fight counterfeit medicines. Bill joined Lilly in 2001 as manager of public affairs. In 2009, he became director of global corporate affairs operations. Prior to joining Lilly, Bill served in the Office of the Governor, Wisconsin, followed by a position as director of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce in Wisconsin.

Closing thought: What can be done to help the fight against counterfeit drugs?