China regulators pledge new crackdown on counterfeit drug operations

China, considered the capital of counterfeit drugs, periodically announces crackdowns on counterfeiters or makes big sweeps in which it arrests dozens, or even hundreds, of suspects. In separate events last year, it reported shutting down hundreds of manufacturing facilities making counterfeit drugs and toxic drug capsules. It is at it again, with the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) saying it has a 6-month campaign to stop drug and traditional Chinese medicine counterfeiters and online retailers of counterfeits.

According to Reuters, there were few details and no mention of regulation changes--only the pledge to stop offenders "We must resolutely punish illegal acts, expose illegal enterprises, recall problematic products," Wu Zhen, the agency's deputy commissioner, said in a statement.

Whether this is something more serious than earlier efforts has yet to be seen. In a major display of action last August, 18,000 Chinese police officers executed the roundup of nearly 2,000 drug counterfeiting suspects and destroyed 1,100 production plants. The fake drugs, valued at $182 million, were advertised for everything from hypertension to cancer and rabies, authorities said. Two months earlier, they had announced a much smaller sweep of capsule makers that were allegedly using gel made from leather scraps to save money.

China and India are identified by the Washington-based International Policy Network as the world's biggest sources of counterfeit drugs. China also has problems with quality. In 2008, it was identified as the source of tainted heparin, which ended up killing dozens of U.S. dialysis patients. It is also believed to be the source of many of the fake drugs that show up for sale online. The FDA, Homeland Security and the U.S. Postal Service since 2008 have been pursuing Bo Jiang, 34, a Chinese national they say is the head of one of the largest rings of online counterfeiting.  

While Chinese counterfeits are considered a pox by Western authorities, they also prey on Chinese consumers. In May, China reportedly arrested dozens of suspects making fake cold medicines and selling them in villages.

Given that the new campaign was announced in the midst of the very public bribery investigation of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) employees, some China experts say it could be that authorities would like to mix up their own regulatory shortfalls with those of international drugmakers in the minds of citizens. Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Reuters 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."  

- read the Reuters story