Parallel trade in pharmaceuticals within the EU involves the legal repacking and reselling of genuine medicines and dates back to the 1970s when a number of pharmacists realized that drug prices varied significantly between member states. By 2002, the UK market for parallel-distributed pharmaceuticals represented ?1,300 million. It is now the largest market in Europe. Parallel importing is controversial. On the one hand, there are the importers, who argue that they are pursuing a legitimate business in a free-trade area, making significant profits through price mark-ups. On the other hand, manufacturers point out that the price differentials that lead to parallel importing are not the result of market prices, but caused by price and reimbursement regulation by governments. If market pricing were permitted, the problem would be much reduced. The main concern of this study, however, is to establish whether patient safety is put at risk by parallel importing. Does repackaging endanger quality control and hygiene, and does parallel importing increase the chances of counterfeit products entering legal supply channels. In the first part, the authors, both from the Health and Social Care Unit at the LSE, set out in detail the facts on parallel trade from continental Europe to the UK, taking into account legislative, regulatory and economic issues. In the second part, a series of experts considers the evidence of product tampering and quality control, as well as the risk of counterfeiting, in order to tackle the sizeable question of the extent to which it is possible to protect patients without erecting barriers to legal trade.
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