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Drug Review to Rid Sector of Corruption
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Vice-Premier Wu Yi yesterday ordered a thorough review of pharmaceutical production licenses and certificates amid a widening probe into the scandal involving the former head of the national food and drug watchdog.

Production licenses for nearly 170,000 medicines will be reviewed under strict assessment procedures by the end of the year.

In a national video-conference, Wu singled out drugs which were granted national-level production licenses from 1999 to 2002 as the focus of inspection.

Wu's action is seen as a major effort to reorganize the disorderly drug market the legacy of the disgraced former head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Zheng Xiaoyu.

Zheng, 63, is being investigated for taking bribes during his eight years in office since 1998.

Insiders said there was rampant corruption involving the SFDA after Zheng introduced the Good Medicine Product (GMP) certificate to replace local standards.

By 2003, more than 2,000 drug producers had been awarded GMP certificates, compared with only 87 before 1999.

"It was an open secret that without money, getting a GMP approval or national production license was impossible," Business News quoted an unnamed drug producer as saying.

Besides reviewing GMP approval and production licenses, Wu also ordered that quality inspectors be dispatched to factories which make key drugs such as injections, biomedicine and special medicines.

There were a series of injection-related medical accidents last year, including the Xinfu antibiotic made by Anhui-based Worldbest Bio-pharmaceutical Co, which claimed 11 lives.

Wu criticized "unscrupulous drug authorities", and called for strict administrative and legal penalties to be imposed on corrupt officials and drug producers.

"Fines alone will not be enough. All those people should face the full force of the law," said Wu.

She admitted that the drug supervision system has severe loopholes, ranging from loose rules which could be changed by some officials to suit their own interests to lax supervision.

In the past few years, the SFDA handled more than 10,000 applications for registering new drugs annually, compared with 148 in the United States in 2004.

To clean up the industry, drug supervision authorities revoked the business licenses of 160 drug manufacturers and retailers in 2006.

Hao Heping, former director of the department of medical equipment in charge of issuing production licenses, was sentenced to 15 years in November for corruption.

(China Daily February 9, 2007)

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