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Nare Petrosyan

Armenia Imported Cancer Drugs Found to be Ineffective and Potentially Harmful

A recent article published in the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) reports that Armenia was one of the ninety countries that have imported a low-quality drug to treat childhood cancer.

The TBIJ investigation revealed that various brands of asparaginase, the main chemotherapy drug used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common kind of childhood cancer, have been proven to be poor quality and that some contain harmful contaminants.

“Worse, in the past five years substandard asparaginase has spread to almost 100 countries, from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Shipping data suggests that countries including Nepal, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates have received the most shipments of these brands Nearly half the countries of Africa have received substandard drugs,” the article reads. 

According to the investigation, the brands Onconase and Aspatero drugs were imported from India to Armenia in 2021. Some batches of both have been found to be ineffective, have side effects, and their use has been banned in many countries.

The Armenian government, on October 3, 2020, approved a special law allowing the importation of unregistered drugs following the declaration of martial law resulting from Azerbaijan’s attack of Artsakh that September.

The drugs were imported from India by two companies, one of which is the well-known, Violeta Medical Center LLC. The name of the other could not be ascertained. 

Arkady Dashyan, the deputy director of Violeta Farm LLC, a subsidiary of Violeta Medical Center LLC, told Hetq that fifty units of Onconase were brought to Armenia in 2021. He claims the drugs were not sold and will be destroyed since they’ve passed the expiration date.

"In 2021, we brought the medicine. In 2023, it was found that it has a side effect. Moreover, the negative claims may not refer to that batch. In any case, they are not among the drugs that have been sold for a long time. Not even one has been sold. We removed them at the warehouse, and we will destroy it," said Dashyan.

Violeta Medical Center LLC provided Hetq with documents, including the Ministry of Health's certificate, for the import of drugs and pharmaceuticals, as well as the batch approval certificate. The documents confirm that the company received permission to import fifty units. The entire batch, according to the internal act of drugs subject to decommissioning, was removed from the wholesale warehouse of drugs in March 2023 and was subject to decommissioning.

Dashyan noted that the issue doesn't only deal with Onconase. No drugs containing L-asparaginase substances are used in Armenia. Dashyan mentioned that there was no demand for such drugs, and they realized that importing them was pointless.

In response to inquiries regarding the import and use of unregistered drugs, the Ministry of Health stated that in 2021 it issued an import certificate only for the unregistered Onconase drug, produced by the Indian company United Biotech (P) Limited. 

The importing company also informed the ministry that the entire imported batch of Onconase drug "has been targeted for the purpose of destruction". According to the Ministry of Health, no pharmaceutical company has applied for a permit to import Aspatero.

Hetq has yet been unable to ascertain which company imported Aspatero to Armenia, in what batch, and whether these drugs were used for cancer treatment.

The ministry has stated that information about the sale of drugs brought into Armenia is only available if they are included in the list of medications provided through state purchases.

Top photo was generated using AI (Midjourney)



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