China has announced that it has launched a six-month campaign to crackdown on the sale of illegal medicine and tighten industry regulation.
The announcement from the State Food and Drug Administration comes just days after Chinese police said they had detained four senior GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) officials over allegations the British drug maker bribed doctors and officials to boost sales of its drugs.
Officials said the campaign would target illegal online drug sales and the sale of fake traditional Chinese medicines, but gave no indication of possible regulation changes, reports Reuters.
China State Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner Wu Zhen said in a statement: "We must resolutely punish illegal acts, expose illegal enterprises, recall problematic products."
Chinese officials have accused GSK of paying up to CNY3bn in bribes through 7,000 travel agencies and consultancies since 2007 and also offering ‘sex bribes’.
A spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry told Reuters news agency that authorities would not hold back punishing companies engaged in bribery, although he did not specifically mention GSK.
"Whether it’s a domestic or foreign-invested enterprise, once it has violated Chinese law, it will be sanctioned," the Ministry said.
The crackdown highlights a growing and consistent problem with the drugs industry in China.
Previously, Chinese police detained up to 2,000 people after a crackdown on fake drugs, seizing more than $180m worth of counterfeit products.
In 2008, at least 149 Americans died after receiving contaminated Chinese supplies of blood thinner heparin.
Chinese consumers have regularly expressed anger at the price of drugs, anger that has been increased by the latest GSK scandal.
The National Development and Reform Commission is currently examining the prices charged by 60 domestic and international drug makers, including GSK, Merck & Co Inc and Astellas Pharma Inc.
Chinese University of Hong Kong history professor Willy Lam said: "This seems to be the largest and the best orchestrated effort to target multinationals. They seem to be blaming foreigners for problems they cannot solve themselves."
Image: The crackdown is another blow to the pharmaceutical industry in China. Photo: courtesy of Wikipedia.