A comprehensive agreement between 29 multinational drug companies and Interpol to combat fake drugs has sounded the alarm bells among local drug-makers.

And they have reason to be alarmed. In the past, genuine generic drugs from India have been seized at Amsterdam, for instance, on allegations of being counterfeit.

In its latest announcement, the international police organisation said the three-year deal, worth €4.5 million, will see Interpol create a Pharmaceutical Crime Programme. “The programme will focus on the prevention of all types of pharmaceutical crime, including branded and generic drug counterfeiting as well as the identification and dismantling of organised crime networks linked to this illegal activity, which generates millions in illicit profits every year,” it added.

Could misfire

Despite the public-health orientation, there are concerns the deal could misfire because of confusion on the definition of fakes and counterfeits, say domestic industry representatives. The list of 29 companies includes drug majors GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, but no generics company, they point out.

Generic drugs are chemically similar to innovator medicines. But in the global market place, generics have had to constantly fend off overt and covert efforts to disparage them and label them ‘counterfeit’.

In 2008, 16 of the 17 cases of seizure of generic medicines by Dutch authorities, on allegations of their being counterfeit, were exports from India. And India had hauled the Dutch authorities to the World Trade Organisation’s Dispute Settlement Body to settle the issue. Against this backdrop, an exporter points out, there is the imminent danger of misrepresentation of the term “counterfeit”.

The latest Interpol agreement is a continuation of the efforts by branded companies to use such agencies as Customs and universal postal unions to target generics as counterfeits, observes D.G.Shah, of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a platform of large Indian drug companies.

Fake medication is an outright health hazard, as it may or may not contain even a little of the real medicine. A counterfeit, also illegal, is essentially a trade-mark violation.

Access to medicines

K.M. Gopakumar, legal advisor to Third World Network, says the lack of clarity between fake and counterfeit definitions, and the ensuing confusion, will be used to push the IP (intellectual property-related) agenda. Patents and trademarks are IP issues. And countries are witnessing legal battles across companies protecting their research data on medicines with patents, and pro-health groups that are fighting them for better access to medicines.

Significantly, Gopakumar points out that there is a conflict of interest if the funds are given by the drug companies to the policing authority to enforce a certain agenda.

The enforcement authority has to be neutral in catching criminal networks and the present partnership has the potential to come in the way of access to medicines, he added. In 2008, for instance, the Indian generics seized at a Dutch port, were merely transiting through the country, with medicines meant for other developing nations.

jyothi.datta@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 14, 2013)
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