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Charles B. Hensley, the inventor of the zinc-based, Zicam cold remedy, was arrested on June 1 in Los Angeles on federal charges of illegally importing and distributing an unapproved herbal product that he claimed prevented and treated avian influenza.
Hensley, 57, has been charged with illegally bringing a product called Vira 38 into the United States and distributing the product to customers around the nation. Hensley is charged in a 12-count indictment that was returned on May 20 by a federal grand jury.
The indictment accused Hensley of four misdemeanor counts of introducing an unapproved new drug into interstate commerce, four misdemeanor counts of introduction of a misbranded drug into interstate commerce, and four felony counts of illegally importing an unapproved drug into the United States.
Hensley was arrested by members of the Southern California Import Task Force, which is made up of agents with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations, and investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
Hensley operated a company — PRB Pharmaceuticals, Inc. — that sought to sell Vira 38 as an influenza medication in Hong Kong. The investigation determined that when marketing efforts in Hong Kong failed, in part, because of the lack of clinical data that demonstrated the product’s efficacy, Hensley promoted Vira 38 as medication to fight the H5N1 virus, which causes the illness commonly called bird flu.
While Hensley touted Vira 38 as a cure for bird flu, the indictment alleges that the product had not been approved by the FDA. The indictment further alleges that the importation of Vira 38 from Hong Kong for distribution to domestic customers was illegal.
If convicted of all charges in the indictment, Hensley faces a statutory maximum sentence of 28 years in federal prison.
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