U.S. authorities have identified a supply chain that may have allowed fake cancer drugs to reach U.S. clinics and Canadians are connected to the investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The dealings of two Canadian businessmen, one in Winnipeg and one living in Barbados, are being examined by federal officials, the newspaper reported.
One of the businessmen, Thomas Haughton, acknowledged his companies shipped a fake version of cancer drug Avastin late last year but said he was unaware the drugs were counterfeit.
“We’re doing everything we can to be sure that this never happens again,” Mr. Haughton, who lives in Barbados and runs a network of drug distributors that sell to U.S. doctors, told The Wall Street Journal.
The sale of discount drugs online is popular with U.S. consumers and has posed a challenge for regulators, since the sales are difficult to police. According to The Wall Street Journal, it violates U.S. drug-safety laws to ship pharmaceuticals to the United States from outside the country. Only drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration and manufactured at inspected facilities may be imported by their manufacturers.
The supply chain is being scrutinized by U.S. authorities for importing and marketing non-FDA-approved drugs into the U.S. The probe is also examining the business of Winnipeg-based pharmacist Kris Thorkelson, who sells low-cost medicines over the Internet from CanadaDrugs.com, the newspaper reported.
Mr. Haughton told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. Thorkelson is his brother-in-law.
Investigators are examining a route that may have taken products through Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland and other countries before ending up with Mr. Haughton’s British wholesaler, River East Supplies Ltd., according to the newspaper, which cited pharmaceutical-industry and law-enforcement officials.
The Wall Street Journal said Mr. Thorkelson didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mr. Thorkelson was previously president of the Manitoba International Pharmacists Association.
Brock Gunter-Smith, chief business development officer for CanadaDrugs.com, said the company doesn’t sell Avastin and is therefore not connected to that counterfeiting case.
Mr. Haughton hasn’t been accused of a crime and investigators don’t believe he knowingly traded counterfeits, the newspaper said. Recently, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles has subpoenaed California doctors for documents about their relationships with and purchases from Mr. Haughton and Mr. Thorkelson, three employees and a dozen affiliated companies, the newspaper said, citing a copy of a subpoena.
The Wall Street Journal said the company that makes Avastin, Roche Holding AG, said the fake drug contained starch, salt, cleaning solvents and other chemicals. There were none of the drug’s active ingredient, bevacizumab, and the packaging didn’t match approved labels.
Mr. Haughton told the newspaper he wasn’t aware of the subpoenas. He said his companies do source drugs in countries outside the U.S. and sell to U.S. doctors. But, he told The Wall Street Journal, his companies only purchase through “regulated supply channels and through licensed wholesalers.”
In response to questions about whether he was aware the FDA says such sales are illegal, Mr. Haughton told the newspaper his companies are safe, ethical and operate legally in the countries in which they’re based.