China sentences former drug official to death

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pharmacology, Pharmaceutical industry

China has today sentenced to death the former director of its State
Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), on charges of corruption,
according to reports in the Chinese media.

The hardline approach may be an attempt by the country to demonstrate to the world its seriousness in stamping out the corruption that is reportedly rife throughout the healthcare and pharmaceutical, among other industries, and has been muddying the country's reputation, causing it to miss out on billions of dollars of foreign investment. The death penalty was slammed on Zheng Xiaoyu by a Beijing court for taking over $850,000 (€632,000) worth of bribes in the form of cash and gifts. Incidently he also received a sentence of seven years' imprisonment for dereliction of duty. In addition, all Zheng's personal property was confiscated and he was deprived of his political rights for life, according to media reports. His wife and son are also implicated and are still being investigated, among others who are believed to be involved. Zheng, who reigned as China's chief drug and food official between 1997 and 2006, does, however, still have the right to appeal. According to the court that convicted him, the death sentence was "appropriate",​ given the "huge bribes involved and the great damage inflicted on the country and the public by Zheng's dereliction of duty",​ it was reported in Xinhua.​ The degree of Zheng's corruption is reportedly extensive. According to the court, he "sought benefits"​ for eight pharmaceutical companies, including the Hainan Kongliyuan Group from South China's Hainan Province, by inappropriately approving hundreds of drugs and medical devices during a three-year period between 2001 and 2003, six of which proved to be fake. Dozens of people have been killed by fake and inferior products in China during Zheng's tenure. In one high profile case in May 2006, nine people died in China after being injected with a concoction of Armillarisni A that contained a fake and toxic ingredient. In Panama last year, more than 40 people died after taking cough syrup, antihistamine tablets, and calamine lotion which contained glycerine that was contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG), a poison used in antifreeze and as a solvent. The glycerin was originally sourced from China. Meanwhile, China is also a source of much of the world's counterfeit drugs - another acute danger to public safety, not to mention the impact on pharma industry revenues. However, after years of suffering from a bad reputation in the pharmaceutical industry, China is now attempting to reverse the damage. Along with the revenue it has been forgoing, China has realised that without serious change it runs the risk of being usurped by its smaller rival India, and it is desperately trying to clean up its image and attract new international business, and in turn big dollars, into the country. The potential for China's pharmaceutical market is vast and has been growing rapidly, however, many pharma firms have long been avoiding doing business in the country because of concerns over corruption and the degree of product quality control and regulation, as well as fears of that their intellectual property (IP) cannot be protected. In addition to the investigation related to Zheng, recent actions from within the country are an indication corruption is beginning to be seriously tackled, and drug manufacturers who produce substandard or counterfeit medicines seriously clamped down on. The SFDA has just announced it will send 90 officials to carry out drug safety inspections in 15 provinces across the country over the next two weeks. Last year the SFDA also carried out 35 unannounced inspections of drug manufacturing facilities at the end of September last year and revoked the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificates of 15 companies and imposed fines, while ordering 13 others to rectify production defects. Commenting on the incident previously, SFDA spokesperson Zhang Jixiang, said that "companies should think very seriously and run their business honestly and stick to the law." ​ He accused local drug authorities of "deficient supervision"​ and urged them to begin making more unscheduled inspections in order to stamp out the "glaring problems"​ among China's drug manufacturers.

Related topics: Clinical Development, Regulatory affairs

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