Former Roche Employees Investigated for Theft, Black-Market Sale of Rituximab

March 14, 2018
Samantha DiGrande

Between 2013 to 2015, doctors at St. Petersburg City Hospital 15 wrote out prescriptions for 34 packages of the 500-mg dose and 31 packages of 100-mg dose, and the suspects allegedly then sold the stolen drugs for a total of around $51,000.

Earlier this year, the Main Investigation Department of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of St. Petersburg, Russia, instituted a second criminal case against former employees of Russian office of drug maker Roche, according to The Pharma Letter, for the theft of name-brand rituximab, MabThera.

The first case, reports Crime Russia, was initiated in June 2017 against unidentified persons who allegedly received illegal prescriptions for 558 packages of MabThera, at doses of 500 mg, from oncologists at the St. Petersburg City Clinical Oncology Dispensary and 806 packages of 100-mg MabThera. Allegedly, the suspects then resold the drugs on the black market for the equivalent of approximately $1 million.

The most recent investigation alleges that former regional manager of Roche, Vladislav Alexandrov (who left Roche in 2014), together with Evgeny Zakharov and unidentified persons, illegally prescribed rituximab, obtained the drug from a pharmacy, and sold it on the black market. Between 2013 to 2015, doctors at St. Petersburg City Hospital 15 wrote out prescriptions for 34 packages of the 500-mg dose and 31 packages of 100-mg dose, and the suspects allegedly then sold the stolen drugs for a total of around $51,000. Investigators believe that the drugs were sold through Zakharov’s affiliated company, NPP Rusecomed.

According to Crime Russia, the chief oncologist of the St. Petersburg City Hospital reported that the institution has not prescribed rituximab since 2009, but such drugs can be prescribed by hematologists, however.

As part of the investigation, police officers searched the apartments of the defendants and 3 other former Roche employees, Dmitry Valyakin, Andrey Kirievsky, and Igor Klimko. Reportedly, through the search, “information was obtained about the distribution of funds received from Roche Moscow by doctors working in the clinics at St. Petersburg.” Investigators allege that this could point to potential bribery.

During the search, police obtained a USB flash drive that contained a file with information about payments to doctors at the expense of ROSH-Moscow CJSC, a legal entity of Roche in Russia. The document reportedly lists the names of doctors with comments about the number of bonuses paid, including which drugs—and how many—each doctor had prescribed. In addition to MabThera sales, the file also includes notes concerning 800 packages of Herceptin (trastuzumab), and 300 packages of Avastin (bevacizumab).

According to The Pharma Letter, Roche has commented on the ongoing investigation, stating that it has “become aware of an ongoing investigation regarding potential fraudulent activities of former employees,” and the firm was “fully collaborating with authorities.”

While Roche's MabThera was the only rituximab product available in Russia at the time of some of the alleged thefts and sales, drug developer Biocad launched its biosimilar rituximab product, Acellbia, in 2014.

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