German pharmacist accused of selling fake cancer drugs

In recent months five former customers of the accused’s pharmacy business have died

Coplaintiff lawyers want the 27 attempted manslaughter charges being heard in the commercial court to be upgraded to an attempted murder trial

Coplaintiff lawyers want the 27 attempted manslaughter charges being heard in the commercial court to be upgraded to an attempted murder trial

 

A German pharmacy owner has gone on trial, accused of selling useless chemotherapy medication to at least 1,000 cancer patients.

German prosecutors claim 47-year-old Peter Stadtmann masterminded a €56 million fraud by selling more than 62,000 doses of cancer drugs with little or no active ingredients over a four-year period.

The alleged fraud – outlined in an 800-page bill of indictment – affected patients drawn from more than 37 doctors in six federal states.

Some 20 plaintiffs have joined the case, mostly former customers or families of customers who subsequently died of cancer.

“I want to live and am fighting for a just verdict,” said Heike Benedetti from Bottrop, where Mr Stadtmann operated the “Alte Apotheke” pharmacy.

Another local woman, Cornelia Thiel, said: “I want the accused to understand the pain he brought to cancer sufferers, I want to know if he took away years of my life.”

In recent months, five former customers of Alte Apotheke have died.

As well as attempted manslaughter, the pharmacist is facing charges of breach of medication law and fraud. If convicted he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Customised treatments

Mr Stadtmann was one of 200 specialist pharmacists in Germany licensed to produce chemotherapy treatments customised to individual patient needs.

Such so-called “cytostatic” cancer treatments are considered more effective than traditional chemotherapy and correspondingly more expensive, up to €100,000 per treatment.

The alleged fraud emerged after a pharmacy laboratory technician complained about poor levels of hygiene in the laboratory to the company accountant.

He investigated further and noticed discrepancies between the cost of chemical purchases and the revenue from prescriptions. The lab technician handed samples to the police, which were revealed to contain no active ingredients at all.

When investigators raided the pharmacy last November, subsequent tests revealed that 66 of 117 custom treatments seized were incorrect, in particular all but one of 29 expensive cytostatic treatments.

The case has attracted huge attention in Germany and raised questions about the standard of checks of high-level pharmacists.

Patient lobby groups complain that the current regulations leave no possibility of unannounced spot checks.

“A chip shop is more tightly controlled . . . than a pharmacist,” complained Germany’s Patient Protection Foundation.

Little evidence

The state prosecutor says comparing purchases of 35 active ingredients to prescription billing records reveals that the pharmacy’s cancer drugs were, at best, 70 per cent strength.

They have accused the pharmacist, who has declined to co-operate with investigators, of an “ice-cold pursuit of profit”.

But they say it is difficult to prove who was sold what, given that few of the chemotherapy infusions still exist. Little evidence exists, say prosecutors, except the pharmacy’s own records.

Co-plaintiff lawyers want the 27 attempted manslaughter charges being heard in the commercial court to be upgraded to an attempted murder trial in the main Essen district court.

“This is not just a money matter,” said Hans Reinhardt, representing one coplaintiff. “The accused accepted that many patients would die prematurely . . . which fulfils the criteria for manslaughter.”