Preventing and detecting counterfeiting
The scale, complexity and covert nature of counterfeiting activity mean it is impossible to prevent all counterfeiting of our products. However, we aim to make it as difficult as possible for people to counterfeit our medicines or to pass other counterfeited medicines off as AstraZeneca products.
We work closely with other pharmaceutical companies through industry trade associations and through the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a not-for-profit organisation, to identify cases of counterfeiting and coordinate investigations. We also collaborate with Interpol, the World Health Organizations’ IMPACT programme and local law enforcement agencies.
What resources do you have for tackling counterfeiting?
We have a global team, drawn from different functions, focused on combating illegal trade of medicines. Our dedicated surveillance team investigates all incidents of counterfeiting, theft or illegal diversion, in collaboration with relevant authorities and other pharmaceutical companies.
We also conduct training and activities to raise awareness of counterfeiting and other types of illegal trade within our markets.
Our sales representatives have detailed knowledge of their local market and play a key role in detecting illegal trade. We train them to look out for suspicious products or traders and report any concerns to Global Security.
How do you prevent AstraZeneca medicines being counterfeited?
We include security features on our packs to enable us to distinguish legitimate products from counterfeits. We also work continuously to improve security in our supply chains to and to inhibit the entry of counterfeit product. This includes:
- Strengthening our due diligence processes for new suppliers and distributors and adding product security clauses in our contracts with supply chain partners.
- Training our distributors to report any suspicions and to maintain secure distribution channels.
- Using seals and/or unique identification numbers on some packs to make it more difficult and expensive for counterfeiters to copy our packaging, and help identify packs which have been tampered with.
How do you identify counterfeit medicines?
We find counterfeits through the work of our investigators, by monitoring internet pharmacies, and via reports from sales representatives, customs and other law enforcement agencies, healthcare professionals and others.
Because of the health risks associated with taking a counterfeit medicine, we encourage patients to first report any concerns to their doctor or pharmacist. Patients and healthcare professionals can also report concerns by contacting the AstraZeneca office in their country, or we can be contacted via our website.
What do you do if you find counterfeit medicines?
Our investigators follow up all reports of suspected counterfeiting. They are professionals recruited from various law enforcement agencies and they focus on identifying the main manufacturers and distributors of counterfeit medicines. They gather the evidence needed for a prosecution and pass this to relevant local law enforcement agencies. All their work is recorded and fully auditable, and complies with globally acceptable standards of ethics and human rights. Our investigators often act as witnesses during court cases, helping to secure convictions.
We act immediately when counterfeit AstraZeneca products are suspected. We analyse suspected counterfeit samples and we convene a global issues management team to coordinate our response. This team can include representatives from the local AstraZeneca Company and our security, legal, quality control, medical, regulatory, supply, and communications departments. We vigorously pursue anyone who makes, distributes or sells counterfeit versions of our products and seek prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
If counterfeit medicines are found to have entered the market, we may alert doctors, pharmacists or wholesalers via letters or other channels. We rely on their cooperation to stop these products from reaching patients.
Some examples of our anti-counterfeit activity
In April 2011, after a three year investigation and prosecution by the MHRA with support from AstraZeneca Global Security, the distributor responsible for £4.7 million worth of counterfeit medicines, including one of our treatments, was found guilty of what was described by the authorities and media as ‘the most serious fake medicines fraud in the EU’.
In August 2011, an AstraZeneca investigation in Colombia uncovered a significant amount of a counterfeit medicine in a well known pharmacy.
In September 2011, our Global Security team was involved in an investigation which led to a raid of a counterfeiting factory in Hebei, China. Millions of counterfeit tablets of 13 different brands from numerous different companies were seized. In addition machinery- including 14 blister packers- were found along with thousands of roles of aluminium foil in what was an established and long standing operation being operated by a known Organised Crime group.
It is the obvious level of potential financial reward that is making counterfeiting an attractive proposition for organised crime networks and other criminal gangs.
What's next in this section
We work with others to raise awareness of counterfeiting worldwide.Read more