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Some batches of cancer drug provided by Turkish gov’t were counterfeit, journalist says

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Some batches of a cancer drug called Iclusig, which is imported to Turkey through state institutions and is used in the treatment of last-stage leukemia, were counterfeit, local media reported on Tuesday, citing a column by journalist Murat Ağırel on the Cumhuriyet daily website.

Ağırel on Tuesday said the suppliers of the drug were the Turkish Pharmacists’ Association (TEB) and the İbn-i Sina Health and Social Security Center of Turkey’s Social Security Institution (SGK), authorized by the Turkish Medicines and Medical Devices Agency (TİTCK).

According to the columnist, a source from the SGK conveyed to the company that sells Iclusig in Turkey the claim that some of the drugs provided to them were counterfeit and that the company confirmed it, telling SGK authorities in November 2018 that the drugs with the codes “25A19E09” and “PR072875” were counterfeit.

After receiving no answer from the SGK, officials from the company visited Fatih Tan, a senior member of TİTCK, and Mustafa Özderyol, general manager of the SGK, among others, to discuss it.

The officials also submitted an official application to the SGK on Dec. 14, 2018 and offered to analyze the drugs, Ağırel said, adding that the institution told them in response that the analysis of the drugs would be carried out in the Ministry of Health laboratories.

After Kuzey Pharma, a company operating in Turkey, started to sell the drug to a licensed pharmaceutical warehouse in Switzerland, the situation was reported to the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products (Swissmedic), and the agency revealed, as a result of analysis, that the drug approved by official institutions in Turkey was a simple pain killer that doesn’t contain the active ingredient ponatinib but only paracetamol, Ağırel said.

In early 2019, Swissmedic reported its findings to the Turkish Health Ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO), which released an “urgent global warning” regarding Iclusig on Jan. 31 of the same year.

Ağırel said although an inspector’s report illustrating the process of providing counterfeit cancer drugs, which mentions fake analysis reports and the names of officials trying to cover up the issue, was submitted to a prosecutor back on Oct. 17, 2019, there was no information about the fate of the file.

“Unfortunately, the institutions [in Turkey] responsible for supplying drugs to their citizens bought counterfeit drugs from drug gangs. The public has suffered great damage. … Then, suddenly, clouds of fog descended on the investigation. It’s not clear whether a lawsuit was filed, a decision of non-prosecution was made, or whether the file was put to bed,” the columnist said.

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