Swissmedic fights pharmaceutical crime


Trading in falsified medicines is increasing on an international level. Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, is promoting and strengthening international co-operation thanks to its work in various EU bodies, in the Council of Europe, and with other countries. Swissmedic's contribution within these international bodies permits outstanding information exchange with foreign authorities: this is not only significant regarding falsified medicines but also regarding the fight against pharmaceutical crime.

In 2008, Swissmedic received around 294 reports of illegal trading in falsified medicines. A quarter of them - 72 cases - involved illegal practices: companies or individuals selling medicines to third parties, who in turn supply them to patients.

The safety of medicines and the protection of patients are issues of central importance for Swissmedic. To fulfil this aspect of its mandate, Swissmedic takes a risk-oriented approach to market monitoring, and networks with Cantonal and international authorities. The Control of Illegal Medicines unit handles reports from individuals, pharmacists, physicians, companies, and the authorities regarding trading in unauthorised medicinal products.

For the direct supply of illegal medicines in the retail trade or the distribution of products in other categories such as dietary supplements or cosmetics, it is the Cantonal authorities that are responsible for control and for taking the appropriate measures. Reports concerning these areas are, following assessment by Swissmedic, forwarded to the corresponding Canton.

Measures were taken in response to 55 cases out of the 72 reported in connection with illegal distribution. The companies were forbidden from distributing the products in question, and in one case, goods were withdrawn from the wholesale trade and an official decision to destroy them was taken. In several cases, penal proceedings were initiated against those concerned.

Some 44 reports concerned falsified medicines, meaning an increase of around 10% in comparison with the previous year. Most reports came from abroad, and in the case of 39 falsified medicines, no link with Switzerland could be established. For three products that were particularly dangerous to health, the customs authorities and the public were informed in order to prevent any imports of them. In some cases, Switzerland was directly affected: in three of them, falsified medicines had reached our country illegally, and in another three, individuals living in Switzerland were involved in the international trading of the products concerned. In the latter cases, proceedings were immediately initiated

To date, no counterfeit medicines have been found in Switzerland's official distribution channels.

When fighting international pharmaceutical crime, Swissmedic has further enhanced its successful collaboration with foreign regulatory authorities for medicinal products. In 2008, Swissmedic reported 6 cases of trading with falsified or unauthorized medicines to the regulatory authorities of the European source countries concerned. In all cases, penal proceedings or investigations were carried out by the relevant authorities, products were seized, or websites were closed. In return, Swissmedic received 12 reports from abroad, which were fully investigated. In four cases, which involved illegal distribution, measures were taken by Swissmedic. In a further three, no infringements on the part of a Swiss firm were identified. Five cases were forwarded to the competent authorities within Switzerland.

Overview of reports received in 2008

Responsibility of Swissmedic:   
Illegal distribution  98  72
Falsified medicines  39  44
Assessments of illegal medicines  30  52
Reports of illegal distribution or mail order from abroad /Miscellaneous         23 41
Responsibility of the Cantons:
Illegal wholesale trade
 44  64
Cosmetics or dietary supplements with claim to medicinal effects  36 21
Total reports
 270 294