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MHRA says many online pharmacies are ‘unregulated’,’ illegal’, or ‘fraudulent’

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MHRA’s latest initiative aims to empower consumers in the fight against online pharmacy frauds

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is doubling down on its efforts to combat online pharmacy frauds, emphasising innovation, eradication of legacy systems, and cybersecurity in its updated technology roadmap.

The online sale of medicines and medical devices is a “growing phenomenon offering convenience, anonymity, and lower prices ” for the public.

However the lack of robust cyber monitoring also “poses significant risks”, as many online pharmacies are “unregulated, illegal, or fraudulent.”

According to the MHRA’s recent report highlighting the impact of artificial intelligence on the regulation of medical products, the strategic themes of “fundamental to the successful deployment of AI” are essential for protecting consumers from fraudulent medical products.

The agency acknowledges the significant risks posed by the growing phenomenon of online pharmacies, with many operating without regulation.

Fake products, as highlighted by the MHRA, “are a serious threat to public health and safety,” potentially containing harmful ingredients or being mislabeled.

The MHRA’s focus is on ensuring consumer safety in the face of this menace as in recent times there have been several reports of illicit medicine selling using online pharmacies.

To tackle the challenges posed by illicit online trading, the MHRA is collaborating with partners to monitor online channels and disrupt illegal trade.

As stated by the MHRA, “there is no single UK regulator for the internet,” underscoring the need for partnership working to address this issue effectively.

In response to these challenges, the MHRA is developing a Medicines Website Checking tool, enabling the public to report suspicious websites.

According to the agency, this tool will facilitate investigations and enforcement actions against those selling fake or illegal medicines online.

Moreover, the MHRA is harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance its capabilities in combating online pharmacy fraud.

The agency is engaging in partnerships with global regulators and technology partners to prototype AI-driven solutions, leveraging advancements made by private sector organisations.

The science-led agency is also collaborating with national and global cybersecurity entities to ensure alignment with best practices and frameworks.

Recognising the evolving cyber threat landscape, the MHRA is prioritising the development of its cyber strategy and implementation plan, “defending against AI and utilising AI to strengthen cyber resilience.”

Earlier, Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said responding to online pharmacies selling prescription-only medicines without adhering to the regulatory standards: “All registered pharmacies, including online services, must safely supply medicines or face robust and appropriate sanctions from the regulators in this space.”

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