HELENA, Mont., Aug. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. prosecutors have accused a Canadian pharmacy of selling some $78 million in counterfeit, misbranded and unapproved drugs -- including those that treat cancer -- to U.S. doctors.
In an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Montana, the company and its affiliates have been charged with smuggling, money laundering and conspiracy. The indictment was returned by a grand jury in November 2014, but a redacted document wasn't unsealed until July.
Canada Drugs and its affiliates in Britain and Barbados allegedly sold a counterfeit version of cancer drug Avastin, as well as the Turkish version of the drug, Altuzan, which was not approved for sale in the United States. U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests on Altuzan found there to be no active ingredient in the medications Canada Drugs allegedly sold.
Avastin -- or bevacizumab -- is used in conjunction with chemotherapy to slow the growth of new blood vessels. It is included on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines and can cost up to $100,000 per year of treatment.
In one instance, the company allegedly realized it sent 36 packs of Avastin suspected of being mislabeled Altuzan to doctors in the United States.
"After Canada Drugs discovered that there had been a significant breach in its supply chain, and possible counterfeit cancer drugs were sitting in its warehouses in the United States, Canada Drugs moved to conceal the problem," the indictment said.
Court documents say the defendants allegedly sold the counterfeit drugs until 2012, when the FDA began an investigation.
"From 2009 until 2012, Canada Drugs profited heavily from its criminal enterprise," the indictment read. "During that time, Canada Drugs generated at least $78 million in gross proceeds from the illegal sale of unapproved new drugs, misbranded drugs and counterfeit drugs in the United States."
Other prescription drugs included in the scheme were Aloxi, Botox, Mabthera, Herceptin, Neupogen, Eprex, Erbitux, Neulastim, Zometa, Gemzar, Venofer, Aclasta, Taxotere and Velcade.