China moves to address shortages in life-saving medicines

Xinhua
A shortage of a life-saving blood cancer drug has prompted Chinese health authorities to act to ensure sufficient supplies of much-needed medicines.
Xinhua

A shortage of a life-saving blood cancer drug has prompted Chinese health authorities to act to ensure sufficient supplies of much-needed medicines.

Shortages of domestically made mercaptopurine, a drug used to treat children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, were recently reported across the country.

As of Monday, a batch of 2.95 million tablets had been produced and were being delivered, an effort described as an emergency response by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Zhejiang Zhebei Pharmaceutical Co said yesterday that it had expedited the production of 15,000 bottles of mercaptopurine tablets, to reach hospitals across the country within a week.

The company, based in Deqing in east China’s Zhejiang Province, is the only one of six authorized makers of the medication still making the drug.

Tan Guojun, its deputy general manager, described demand in China as “small,” around 50,000 bottles a year. 

“Sales generate only about 1.5 million yuan (US$230,000), around 2 percent of our total revenue,” Tan said, noting that the company’s tablets sell for a fifth of imported medication.

He said production had been paused to build a new production line for the pills. Production resumed last Friday, and by Tuesday evening, 15,000 bottles of tablets had been loaded for delivery.

“The company will continue to produce the medicine according to demand and ensure a stable supply of the drug,” Tan said.

Reports of shortages in medicine in China are not unusual, most involving essential supplies of low priced medicine, specialized or first-aid drugs.

“The quick resumption of mercaptopurine production is due to improved monitoring of drug shortages,” said Zhang Feng, deputy director of drug policy and essential medicine department of the health and family planning commission.

Earlier this year, health authorities had identified early warning signs of a mercaptopurine shortage and sped up approval for companies to produce the medicine.

Zhang said that the resumption of supplies would have taken six months without the early warning.

Niu Zhengqian, vice president of the Chinese Pharmaceutical Enterprises Association, said low priced medicine in small demand faced shortages when production costs rose and profit margins fell.

The commission’s Zeng Yixin said: “When the hand of the market does not work, government intervention is needed.”

Government agencies, including the commission, will consult manufacturers on ways to handle drugs on the shortage list.


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