Taipei (Taiwan News)—Ingredients found in a batch of counterfeit Crestor, a cholesterol medication manufactured by global pharmaceutical AstraZeneca, were shipped from China, said Minister of Health and Welfare (MOHW) Chen Shih-chung (陳時中).
Nine suspects involved in the case were detained by prosecutors for synthesizing fake Crestor using cheaper atorvastatin, a chemical whose patent has expired, in their underground lab in New Taipei City on March 6, 2017.
Normally, Crestor's main ingredient is AstraZeneca's patented rosuvastatin.
The main suspect surnamed Pan, who holds an undergraduate degree in laboratory medicine and biotechnology, was synthesizing fake Crestor from July to August 2016.
The MOHW did not detect any harmful chemical substances in the counterfeited drugs in lab analyses, but further investigation is needed to track down ingredient suppliers in China, said Chen.
"The raw material supplier is most likely from China, and the suspects probably acquired related materials there," said Chen. "We might consider visiting China,”he added.
Further investigations are being conducted to clarify whether the underground pharmaceutical operation was synthesizing other international mega-hit drugs.
Pan was selling fake drugs, which only cost NT$100 (US$3.22) to make, for four times the price at NT$460-480 to pharmacies.
Crestor, a lipid-lowering drug, is one of the most widely used medications in Taiwan. More than 570,000 people in Taiwan take the cholesterol medication with about NT$2.3 billion spent on the drug each year, according to National Health Insurance Administration statistics.
AstraZeneca's new Crestor has "exchange" printed in bold blue letters underneath the box. (CNA)
Batches with the serial number MV503 and MK479 of Crestor were counterfeited by the crime group, and AstraZeneca responded by rolling out a nationwide recall of the drug on March 7, 2017.
However, distribution of new Crestor for exchange at pharmacies has been sluggish with many people placed on a long waiting list.
Some people complained only the problematic Crestor batches were available for exchange, said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬).
In response, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Wu Shou-mei (吳秀梅) said AstraZeneca only started to distribute new Crestor medication through its distributors and retailers on March 9, 2017, and people can call the company's number 0800-888-633 to check if new medication is available for exchange or the FDA hotline (02)2787-8200 for further assistance.