State body seeks probe into drugs safety chief
Investigation into watchdog's leader coincides with hepatitis C scandal
The State Council has ordered a thorough investigation into the conduct of the former state drugs watchdog chief sacked last year on suspicion of taking bribes.
Zheng Xiaoyu , who was removed as head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) in June, is alleged to have taken bribes to help companies get around drug approval standards.
'Zheng's case is a serious case of negligence of duty and taking advantage of his position to make a profit for himself,' China Central Television reported last night, citing a council meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao .
The report said Zheng allowed other officials and his relatives to 'conduct illegal acts', 'caused great harm to the people's health' and 'greatly damaged the reputation of the party and the government'.
'The meeting has ordered a thorough investigation into Zheng's case and serious punishment according to the law,' the report said.
The report said the meeting had ordered government to learn from Zheng's corruption case and continue major efforts to regulate the pharmaceutical market.
Corruption is rife in the drug production and distribution sector, and low-quality or even tainted medicines can get official approval in return for bribes.
The report coincides with an SFDA probe into a widening blood-product scandal. An intravenous blood-based product tainted with hepatitis C has been sold in a dozen provinces and cities, the administration said yesterday.
The defective immunoglobulin injections, produced by Guangdong Bioyee Pharmaceutical, 'were mainly distributed to 12 provinces and cities, including Guangdong, Beijing, Sichuan , Anhui , Hebei , Fujian and Chongqing ,' it said.
The scandal surfaced last week after authorities learned that an unknown number of patients injected with the drug in Beijing hospitals earlier this month were later found to be infected with hepatitis C.
The authority has admitted that the Shaoguan factory 'acted illegally in production' and caused the infections, adding that the SFDA had suspended distribution and use of the product and recalled it.
It is not known how many tainted immunoglobulin shots had been sold and how many had been used.
According to the firm's website, the products were sold in all mainland provinces and cities except Tibet , with annual sales exceeding 100 million yuan.
Local drug authorities have spent several days scouring hospitals and suppliers for tainted stocks. Xinhua said Guangdong officials had sealed 21,470 bottles of the defective injections by Tuesday night.
In Sichuan, the Chengdu Evening News said drug agencies had returned 590 bottles to the manufacturer and sealed 445 more. The Beijing News said 5,046 doses were discovered in the capital last week.
The state drug administration said it had organised drug and health specialists to further investigate production and the medical reason for the infections.
Government sources said Bioyee had already been warned in August by the Guangdong Health Department for illegally buying blood from suppliers in Lianshan, a source known for poor-quality supplies with a high risk of disease.
In Guangdong, the propaganda department has banned the media from investigating and ordered news outlets to rely on official press releases. Guangzhou newspapers said yesterday the authority had the situation 'well under control'.
Reports also said local drug and health specialists did not find any signs of the hepatitis C virus in blood samples taken from some patients injected with the Bioyee immunoglobulin.
Several local health journalists said they had not expected the authority to impose such a ban.
Bioyee representatives were unavailable for comment yesterday.