Swiss banker resold cheap HIV drugs meant for Africa

A former Swiss banker illegal earned over €1 million by selling HIV medication meant for poor people in southern Africa to customers in Europe, authorities say.

Swiss banker resold cheap HIV drugs meant for Africa
A South African woman is tested for HIV by an health worker working with Doctors withour borders (MSF) at a mobile clinic. File photo: AFP

The businessman, now aged 70, made the profit by abusing a system designed to ensure that HIV patients in developing countries could access retroviral therapy at affordable prices.

Under the United Nations’ so-called Accelerating access initiative, pharmaceutical companies were obliged to make retroviral therapy available to poorer countries at a tiny fraction of the price seen in Europe and the USA.

But a Zurich-based businessman – named as M.K by Swiss magazine Beobachter – saw a way to make money from the scheme.

Working with an accomplice in South Africa who described himself as a wholesale pharmaceuticals dealer, M.K is thought to have imported cheap medication into Europe before selling it on at first world prices.

To ensure the medication meant the needs of the German market it was removed from the English-language packaging supplied for the South African market and placed it in original German language GlaxoSmithKline packaging destined for Namibia.

The drugs were then shipped to Brussels.

Payments were made via three firms in Panama, all of which could be traced back to M.K.

The man is thought to have made profits of €900,000 (995,000 Swiss francs) and £140,000.

However, the scheme came to an end when a customer in Germany complained that the HIV medication he had purchased had been tampered with and that some of the pills were missing. Similar cases were then revealed.

A follow-up investigation by Swiss pharmaceuticals agency Swissmedic has seen M.K stripped of his earnings.

Despite claims from the businessman that he was a “victim” in the affair and that he wasn’t aware such practices were illegal, he will be forced to pay a fine of at least 8,500 francs and his court costs.

His accomplice was fined 5,200 Swiss francs by the South African authorities and has since been fired by his firm, Beobachter reported.

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Swiss pharma giant Novartis to splash nine billion euros on US firm

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis announced over the weekend it would dish out $9.7 billion (8.8 billion euros) to acquire US firm Medicines Company, in a move aimed at boosting its cardiovascular treatment portfolio.

Swiss pharma giant Novartis to splash nine billion euros on US firm
Photo: AFP

Novartis said Sunday it had agreed to pay $85 per Medicines Co. share, which was 41 percent over the US company's closing price on Friday. 

The move will mark the latest in a line of acquisitions aimed at enhancing the Swiss company's stable of cutting-edge drugs to treat things like cancer.  

In snapping up Medicines Co., the pharma giant said it will lay its hands on a promising cholesterol drug called inclisiran, described by company chief Vas Narasimhan as a “potentially transformational medicine”.

Inclisiran, which recently completed its phase III study, fights “bad” LDL cholesterol in patients with atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in their arteries.

The drug, which requires far fewer annual injections than the products currently on the market, is based on RNA interference therapy.

This is a natural phenomenon used to silence specific genes that produce harmful or diseased proteins, whose discovery in the late 1990s earned Craig Mello and Andrew Fire the 2006 Nobel Medicine Prize.

Such therapy is increasingly being used for a range of conditions.

The Medicine Co's drug specifically blocks the liver from making a particular enzyme, PCSK9, which in turn lowers the production of low-density lipoprotein.

Medicines Co has said it plans to request regulatory approval in the United States by the end of the year, and in Europe in early 2020.

Overall sales of anti-cholesterol treatments are on average rising 11 percent annually and are expected to reach $17.7 billion by 2024, according to numbers from analysis firm EvaluatePharma.

High cholesterol is a key factor in coronary artery disease, the most common kind of heart disease and the number one killer of men and women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

If the transaction is completed, inclisiran will be added to Novartis's current cardiovascular products, including its heart-failure treatment Entresto, which saw its sales soar 61 percent year on year to $430 million during the third quarter this year.

“Novartis has a longstanding history of delivering breakthrough cardiovascular treatments for patients, and I am very excited about the opportunity to add inclisiran to our cardiovascular portfolio,” Marie-France Tschudin, president of Novartis Pharmaceutical, said in a statement.

Analysts with Jefferies hailed the move, saying there was a “clear strategic rationale” for the acquisition, and for “bolstering Novartis' cardiovascular franchise, notably leveraging Entresto.”

Novartis said it planned to pay for the acquisition with “available cash and short- and long-term borrowings.”

The acquisition, which still needs a green light from antitrust authorities, is expected to be finalised during the first quarter of 2020.

Following Sunday's announcement, Novartis saw its share price inch 0.4 percent higher to 90.14 Swiss francs ($90.40, 82 euros) a piece in midday trading Monday on the Swiss stock exchange.