A shipment of the cancer treatment drug Avastin, bearing an identical number to a batch identified as fake, was imported and distributed in Israel, according to the ministry.
Avastin, manufactured by Roche, is used to treat cancers of the colon, breast, lungs and brain, and is also given to patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In total, tens of thousands of people in Israel receive the drug, and its annual turnover here is more than NIS 100 million.
“Roche and the FDA published an announcement stating they suspected Avastin was being counterfeited,” stated the Health Ministry. “One of the batches identified as fake is identical to a batch imported and sold in Israel in July 2010.
The Health Ministry is working to determine where these drugs are. To date, there have been no reports of unusual side effects from Avastin,” it said.
The drug is administered only at hospitals and health clinics, not by patients themselves.
At the beginning of the week, the Health Ministry sent hospitals and clinics a letter stating that the 2010 shipment had been fully distributed, and was probably being used at that moment.
Health centers were asked to report back immediately if they discovered any of the drugs, and to halt using them immediately. They were also asked to report which patients received drugs from that batch, and whether any had reported side effects.
Mickey Arieli, director of the Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical crime unit, stated that U.S. authorities had found that patients were being given fake Avastin that did not contain the active ingredient.
“The fake medication entered the United States by means of Europe, and reasonable suspicions indicate that they originally came from Egypt. We’re working with the HMOs in order to determine whether the drugs are fake, and are asking that this batch not be used for the time being,” he said.
Roche Israel stated in response that it was certain that no fake drugs had been sold in Israel.
“There are no suspicions regarding the batch distributed by Novolog between August 2010 and December 2010. So long as the drugs used were from this batch, which came from the exclusive distributor Novolog, there are no concerns of counterfeiting,” it stated.
Novolog, the importer, buys the medication only from Roche itself, which means “the entire import chain is hermetically sealed and there’s no chance that counterfeit drugs made their way in,” Roche Israel said.
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