June 19, 2008 / 2:40 PM / 12 years ago

EU drugmakers demand repackaging ban to stop fakes

PARIS, June 19 (Reuters) - Drugmakers called on Thursday for a ban on the repackaging of medicines within the European Union in order to stamp out the growing threat of counterfeits.

“It is absolutely imperative, if we are going to try and protect consumers from counterfeits, that we do not allow a system that can take our medicines out of its packaging,” industry association head and Bayer Healthcare BAYG.DE CEO Arthur Higgins told reporters.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers blame the legal practice of parallel trade — in which drugs bought in low-priced markets are repackaged and resold in high-price countries — for fuelling counterfeit traffic. Parallel traders deny the charge.

Preventing repackaging would deal a blow to the parallel trade and could also help drugmakers’ profits, since companies’ revenues are currently eroded by arbitrage dealings in their products across borders.

Under current EU rules, medicines can be repackaged, relabelled and the tablets even removed from blister packs, all of which drugmakers argue jeopardises security and provides an opportunity for criminals.

Counterfeit medicines, which may contain the wrong or even toxic ingredients, are on the rise worldwide. The World Health Organisation estimates they may make up 10 percent of the global pharmaceutical market.

The problem is most acute in developing countries but it is also increasing in Europe, with fake versions of life-saving drugs like AstraZeneca Plc’s (AZN.L) cancer medicine Casodex and Sanofi-Aventis SA’s (SASY.PA) blood-thinner Plavix turning up in the supply chain in the past year.

Sanofi Chairman Jean-Francois Dehecq said counterfeiting was now being carried out on an industrialised scale, often by the same criminal gangs which dealt in narcotics.

“It is time for Europe to act as the driving force in the fight against this deadly crime,” he said.

Dehecq and Higgins said they hoped for tougher EU legislation by the end of the year as part of a new pharmaceutical package being developed in Brussels.

In the meantime, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations will launch a pilot scheme using complex bar codes and tamper-resistant packaging in Germany next year, designed to show that secure packaging for drugs is feasible.

In the long term, it wants to see a standardised and unique coding system for medicines across Europe.

Editing by Rory Channing

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