Thailand government vaccine plant at center of probe

Four years ago, a federal agency in Thailand began building a plant intended to produce enough flu vaccine to protect the country in case of a pandemic. But anticorruption investigators for the current government now want answers as to why the plant is two years overdue. 

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is also grilling officials of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) about what it calls "irregularities" in the purchasing of ingredients for the plant, as well as an API to make paracetamol pain tablets, according to Thailand's The Nation.

"The GPO has imported a large amount of raw materials to make the painkiller--but what for?" asked Tanin Prempree, director of the DSI's corruption prevention and suppression center. 

The Bt1.4 billion ($48 million) vaccine plant was approved in 2008; construction started in 2009 and was slated to be completed in 2011, but the deadline was extended by two years. The plant was initially designed to make up to 100 million doses of inactivated influenza vaccine, but the design was later changed so it could manufacture both live-attenuated and inactivated vaccine. Authorities are raising questions about whether the GPO had the authority to make that change. Corruption investigators are also concerned about the 148 tonnes of ingredients acquired in 2011 and 2012 that have been in storage awaiting completion of the plant and which will expire by 2015. 

Thailand is one of the Asian countries that is seen to have significant potential for drugmakers. Fuji Pharma last year expanded into Thailand, paying about BT1.68 billion ($53.4 million) for a plant from DKSH, which had decided to exit drug manufacturing. That plant had more than 850 employees making more than 550 products. Sanofi ($SNY) is in clinical trials there for a vaccine candidate targeted at mosquito-borne dengue.

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