Top Drug Regulator Sentenced to Death

By David Michaels

The Chinese government has apparently recognized the importance of integrity in drug regulation. According to AP:

China’s top drug regulator was sentenced to death on charges of corruption and negligence, state media said Tuesday, the latest development stemming from growing alarm over the country’s poor food-safety record.

Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted and sentenced “on charges of taking bribes and dereliction of duty” at the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, the Xinhua News Agency said in a brief dispatch. No other details were given.

Zheng was fired in 2005 on charges he took up to US$780,000 in bribes to approve medicine that had not been tested to ensure its safety.

State media have reported that drugs improperly approved by Zheng’s agency included an antibiotic that killed at least 10 patients last year before it was taken off the market.

The failure of the Chinese regulatory system has been scandalous; the number of Chinese victims of adulterated and toxic materials is no doubt enormous, far more than the ten patients reported here.

Why is the Chinese government so dramatically embracing regulatory integrity? The mass poisoning of American pets has exposed the absence of an effective public health regulatory apparatus. Americans and Europeans have come to expect our food to be safe and unadulaterated. We want our drugs evaluated for efficacy and safety. China’s regulatory failings threaten the export market, forcing the Chinese government to act.

(It is worth noting, of course, that here is the US, we are not immune from these sorts of problems. Vioxx, a drug improperly approved by the FDA, has caused perhaps 100,000 heart attacks in this country, and many more overseas. Lester Crawford, the FDA’s former Commissioner, was sentenced to three years’ supervised probation for lying and violating conflict-of-interest laws for falsely reporting his ownership of stock in companies regulated by the FDA.)

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

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