Let’s say you are a heart attack survivor like me, who must now take a fistful of cardiac drugs every day. And let’s say one of them is Crestor, a drug manufactured by the U.K – Sweden based pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca. But today you learn that AstraZeneca plans to move all drug production of its “active pharmaceutical ingredients” from the U.K. to China.
Next, you find out that the world’s biggest drug company, Pfizer – manufacturer of both Norvasc (your calcium channel blocker drug) and Accuretic (your ACE inhibitor) – is doing the same thing.
Pfizer plans to close its Connecticut plant and expand operations in Wuhan, China, where hundreds of new jobs will be added. Pfizer is also expanding in Shanghai.
The list gets longer. The drugmaker Novartis (creator of many ‘over the counter’ drugs like Maalox, ExLax, Buckley’s, Bufferin, as well as generic prescription drugs like amoxicillin and fentanyl) has just announced a $1 billion investment that will create China’s largest pharmaceutical plant. Eli Lilly (makers of many diabetes drugs, plus Cymbalta, Prozac, Cialis) has just axed 5,500 North American jobs, and is adding 2,000 jobs at its China plants. Contract drug sales rep firms are ramping up in China to serve these companies.
Outsourcing to China is part of a disturbing Big Pharma trend. Drug companies with massive Western operations are shutting them down and moving them to China to reduce costs. The question you should be asking now is: “How will our government regulators monitor drug safety if all the factories are in China?”
China has a reputation for adulterated drugs and low quality products, some of which have proven to be lethal. The country has in recent years exported poisonous toothpaste, lead-painted toys, toxic pet food, tainted fish, deadly baby formula and contaminated medicine – like the blood thinner heparin.
Heparin is a perfect example of why patients and their doctors should be extremely alarmed at this ‘made in China’ drug trend designed to decrease costs for Big Pharma. Heparin is made from the mucous membranes of the intestines of slaughtered pigs that, in China, are often cooked in unregulated family workshops.
Contaminated heparin produced in China has led to severe illness in hundreds of patients, and the deaths of up to 81 in North America alone. The contaminant was identified as oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, a cheaper substance. Last year, the American Food & Drug Agency identified 12 Chinese companies that supplied contaminated heparin to 11 countries — Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.
Apparently, the agency did not know the original source of all the contamination, or the points in the supply chain at which it was added.
As industry journal BNET noted online last year, the FDA had only 12 inspectors in China, who were able to visit just 80 of 714 drug establishments in China over the previous two years.
Interestingly, this mass migration of pharmaceutical jobs and plants to China coincides with a Chinese government-sponsored campaign of 30-second TV ads now being broadcast throughout North America and Asia, commissioned to combat the damage done by lead-contaminated toys, melamine-laced pet foods, spontaneously-combusting DVD players, and countless other recalls big and small of Chinese-made products – on top of the frightening tainted drug scandals.
Professor Jing Bing of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business explained in a Globe and Mail interview last week:
“This advertising campaign makes foreign consumers less resistant to Chinese-made products.”
However, these TV ads (ironically, their launch was actually delayed by the melamine-contaminated baby formula poisonings last summer) do not address the fundamental shortcomings in the safety of Chinese-made goods.