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Health and wellness

Mould scare prompts removal of indigestion drug Enzyplex from Hong Kong’s public hospitals and shops

Hospital Authority says mould found in Indonesian-made drug would not hurt healthy people but could pose a risk of infection to people with compromised immune systems

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:56pm

A drug used for digestive disorders was removed from shop shelves in Hong Kong on Friday after tests on several tablets found they were contaminated with mould.

The city’s public hospitals and clinics also stopped dispensing Enzyplex, an over-the-counter drug made in Indonesia, with the Hospital Authority saying that about 4,000 of its patients had been prescribed the medication.

It added that while the Monascus mould found on the tablets would not harm healthy people, there was “a possible risk of infection” among people with weakened immune systems.

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Unam Corporation, the drug’s supplier in Hong Kong, asked retailers, hospitals and clinics to immediately stop distributing or selling the drug until more tests were done.

It said consumers who had bought the drug could return the product if it had not yet expired.

“Our company is working with the Department of Health during the investigation and is in close contact with the manufacturer,” the company said in a statement. “The manufacturer has also submitted its manufacturing records to the department.”

According to the health department, the manufacturer Medifarma Labs said materials used to make Enzyplex and the production facilities met its specifications. The manufacturer said it was continuing to investigate the matter and would issue a report soon.

The discovery was made when doctors at Queen Mary Hospital reviewed oral medication taken by a cancer patient who had recently died. Incidentally, they discovered a different mould on a sample of Enzyplex, though an authority spokesman said the woman died from her underlying disease.

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The department said about 128,000 100-tablet bottles and 46,000 30-tablet bottles of Enzyplex had been supplied to the public and private health care sectors, including 11 private hospitals. Most of the product was supplied to the private market.

“Who dares to buy the product now?”
Lau Oi-kwok, Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy vice-chairman

Supermarket chain ParknShop and pharmacy chain Watsons said they would remove the product from shelves temporarily. Another pharmacy chain, Mannings, said it had already removed the product.

Samples of the drug were being tested by the department to determine if it exceeded specific standards on mould and yeast content. The results were expected to be revealed next week.

William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, expected minimal effect on consumers. He said there was at least one other drug available in the city that was similar to Enzyplex.

Lau Oi-kwok, Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy vice-chairman, said the drug’s supplier had contacted his organisation on Friday to tell the city’s pharmacies to remove the product from shelves.

“Who dares to buy the product now?” Lau said. “The products would be recalled if they were found to contain [excessive level of mould].”

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He said removing the product from shelves did not pose a big impact on the business of his pharmacy, which sold up to 20 bottles each month.