PharmExec Blog

Phony Tamiflu Sites Spike in Wake of Swine Flu

In the wake of the swine flu craze, at least 55 Web sites have sprung up in the last few weeks selling Tamiflu. That’s according to a new report by data firm MarkMonitor. Two of the pharmacies are certified—one in the US and one in the UK—and six of the pharmacies are actually using the brand name Tamiflu in the domain name. Another five sites were registered within the first week of the CDC’s press announcement about the H1N1 epidemic.

“Clearly, people who are used to abusing domain naming system for drug names are doing it for the Swine flu as well,” said MarkMonitor chief medical officer Fred Felman. “They are using the brand Tamiflu to try and gain some credibility to sell products from pharmacies that are uncertified. It’s predicating sales on the fear and concerns of people.”

Typing Tamiflu in Google returns a number of sponsored links to online pharmacies, mostly claiming to be in Canada. None are official sites of the drug’s manufacturer, Roche. More than half make reference to swine flu.

MarkMonitor, authors of the annual “BrandJacking” report, track the existence, content, and brand use of a Web site. The company does not have access to transactional data, nor can it account for the credibility of the drugs being sold.

“Based on previous buying experiences—we have bought drugs in the past—the drugs are rarely real, and most often the product is never shipped,” Felman said.

Who’s Watching Who
So who should be responsible for taking down these sites—FDA or the pharma companies? At the moment, it seems the Web-hosting companies and search engines are taking the lead. Both Google and Yahoo are quick to take down problematic and/or illegal paid search ads, and hosting sites such as GoDaddy have been authorized to remove infringing sites without notification (if they fall on a banned list).

FDA, in the past week, has issued at least a half dozen warning letters to companies claiming to sell a cure or prevention medication for H1N1. However, if the Web site isn’t created on US soil, it doesn’t have to abide by FDA’s rules.

“The important thing for the pharma company is to have tools in place to identify abuse so that they can take action, because the brands that suffer worst are the ones that don’t do anything,” Felman said. “If you let this fester, and let the criminals think your brand is an easy target, that’s who they’ll target. If you enforce, you see counterfeiters move to another brand.”

Roche could not be reached for comment by deadline.

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