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Bogus cancer drug not in Western Pennsylvania

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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

Western Pennsylvania hospitals and oncologists checked supplies of the anti-cancer drug Avastin on Wednesday because of concern that counterfeits missing the essential ingredients entered the U.S. market, but none appeared to reach Pittsburgh.

Roche subsidiary Genentech, which makes the drug for treating brain, lung, kidney and colorectal cancers, said counterfeit versions were found and officials were working with the Food and Drug Administration to determine the origin and destinations. The drug generates about $6 billion a year for Switzerland-based Roche.

The FDA believes the counterfeit drugs came from a foreign supplier, Quality Special Products, also known as Montana Health Care Solutions, and were distributed through Gainesboro, Tenn.-based Volunteer Distribution.

UPMC's hospitals and doctors obtain all supplies from another distributor, said Dr. Adam Brufsky, associate director of the UPMC Cancer Institute.

"We'll do spot-checks, random checks, anyway, just to be sure. We already had our head of pharmacy check into it (Wednesday) morning," Brufsky said. "We probably are the biggest user in the entire region, given our volume."

The West Penn Allegheny Health System also uses a different supplier, Cardinal, said spokeswoman Stephanie Waite.

"Of course, our pharmacists are exercising additional caution because of the warning," she said.

St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon stocks a limited supply of Avastin, said spokesman Robert Crytzer, and buyers for the hospital checked the stock when they became aware of the FDA warning. They found none of the counterfeit drug, he said.

Genentech officials said the fake vials do not contain Avastin's key ingredient and are neither effective nor safe. The counterfeit packaging lists Roche as manufacturer, not Genentech, and has text in French on outer packaging.

The FDA sent letters to 19 doctors and medical centers in California, Texas and Illinois, warning they might have purchased cancer medicines from Volunteer Distribution that could include counterfeit Avastin. The letters noted that QSP/Montana Health Care Solutions provided other medications from foreign sources that the FDA did not approve. The agency urged doctors to stop using those medications.

Except when there are shortages of U.S.-made drugs, the FDA discourages the purchase of foreign versions of agency-approved drugs. Although Avastin is approved for treatment of brain, lung, colorectal and kidney cancers, the FDA withdrew its approval of using the drug to treat breast cancer in November because of dangerous side effects.

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