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Suspended pharmacist acquitted of serious counterfeit medicine breaches

By News team

A suspended pharmacist alleged to have been involved in what has been described as the most serious case of counterfeit medicines entering the supply chain has been acquitted by the courts. Meanwhile, PJ Online has learnt that proposals to strengthen the medicines supply chain against counterfeits are now at an advanced stage of development. 

James Quinn, aged 69, of Virginia Water, Surrey, who is currently suspended from the General Pharmaceutical Council’s Register, was one of five men alleged to have been knowingly involved in the importation and distribution of counterfeit medicines in the UK (PJ, 11 December 2010, p673).

He was acquitted along with three others while Peter Gillespie, aged 64, of Windsor, Berkshire — considered to be the driving force behind the operation — was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, trademark violations, Medicines Act offences and Companies Act offences and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The four-month trial at Croydon Crown Court concluded last week (8 April 2011). A Chinese national has already been convicted in the US in connection with the case.

Commenting on Mr Quinn’s acquittal, a spokesman for the GPhC said the council would look into the details of the case and the verdict to decide “if and what action” could be taken.

The case involved the infiltration of counterfeit medicine into the European supply chain during a five-month period in 2007 (see Panel).

Proposals for sanctions

Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency head of enforcement Mick Deats said the agency is discussing proposals to bring in sanctions for counterfeit medicines offences. He said: “We’re discussing with ministers proposals for bringing in new legislation and are waiting to hear back. We’ve suggested for specific counterfeit medicines offences a sentence of 14 years — consistent with the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

There is also a proposal to introduce a specific offence for manufacturing, supplying and handling counterfeit medicines, Mr Deats said.

Case details

Over 72,000 packs of counterfeit Casodex (bicalutamide), Plavix (clopidogrel) and Zyprexa (olanzapine), with a retail value of £4.7m, were imported into the UK from Hong Kong between December 2006 and May 2007.

The counterfeit medicines were manufactured in China and repackaged in the UK where they were sold to wholesalers as French stock.

The operation came under the spotlight when a wholesaler noticed a batch number on a blister had been printed in reverse and reported this to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.  

Although more than half of these doses were seized by the MHRA, almost 25,000 packs reached pharmacies and patients.

The products contained suboptimal doses of the active ingredients together with unknown impurities and were indistinguishable from genuinemedicines by visual inspection alone.

The MHRA said there was no evidence that the medicines caused adversereactions or deaths in any patients but added that proving a causal effect was difficult.

Peter Gillespie, an ex-pharmaceutical parallel importer and licensed wholesaler was responsible for organising the purchase of the counterfeit medicines, forging documents, financing, collecting, relabeling and delivering counterfeit medicines. The MHRA estimates he made profits in the region of £3–3.3m.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11073125

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