ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Roche said on Friday that compromised vials of its top-selling blood cancer drug MabThera had been found in Germany, the second time this year that one of its medicines has been targeted by counterfeiters.
MabThera, which is also known as Rituxan, is an injectable biotech drug used to treat blood cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. In 2013 it was Roche’s biggest seller with sales of 6.95 billion Swiss francs ($7.45 billion).
“Roche was alerted that counterfeit MabThera was detected in Germany by a German parallel importer,” the drugmaker said in an emailed statement.
Earlier this year, vials of Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin, thought to be stolen from hospitals in Italy and then tampered with, were found in Britain, Finland and Germany.
Roche said the batch of MabThera in question was originally distributed by the company to wholesalers in Romania.
“Once the product in question reached the wholesaler network, Roche has neither further control nor knowledge of the events that may have transpired,” it added.
The Swiss drugmaker said it was unaware of any link between the compromised vials in Germany and the reported counterfeiting and tampering of products with Italian packaging.
It said it was working with health authorities and law enforcement agencies to help mitigate any risks to patient safety.
In May, Italy’s pharmaceutical watchdog said it was spearheading international efforts to catch a criminal ring that is stealing and recycling sophisticated drugs and reselling them for tens of millions of euros.
Roche’s drugs have been targeted by counterfeiters in the past. In 2012 bogus copies of its cancer drug Avastin entered the supply chain in the United States and Europe. While these incidents have generated publicity, they have not had an appreciable impact on sales.
Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Michael Urquhart