Recent scandals about substandard pharmaceutical drugs will likely jeopardize Beijing's ambitions to become a international pharma leader — even as Chinese President Xi Jinping's government seeks to quell public anger.
China's drug regulator accused parent company Changsheng Bio-technology of fabricating production and inspection records related to the vaccine, that is regularly given to infants. Changsheng means "long life" in Chinese.
On Tuesday, the chairwoman of Changsheng was placed in criminal detention, along with 14 others involved in the case, state media reported.
While there have been no known reports of people being harmed by the rabies vaccine, Chinese regulators ordered the company to halt production and recall the product amid ongoing investigations. Not only are drugs for the domestic market under scrutiny, products for export are also being closely examined.
Changchun Changsheng was also found to have earlier sold a substandard vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
"The latest in a litany of food and drug safety scares, the Changsheng case has sparked both intense criticism of the Chinese government’s ability to regulate the space at home, and concerns about China’s recent push to market pharmaceuticals abroad," said Viola Rothschild, a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
China was the world’s second-largest health-care market in 2017 — worth $122.6 billion, according to IQVIA, a health-care information company. It is also the biggest emerging market for pharmaceuticals with growth tipped to reach $145 billion to $175 billion by 2022.
Earlier this month, China’s Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical said it was recalling a heart drug sold in the United States after the European Medicines Agency found that it was tainted with a substance linked to cancer.
"Chinese manufacturers (across all sectors) have worked hard to shake the conception that 'Made in China' is synonymous with 'low quality,' but incidents like these undermine trust and are a reminder that despite recent reforms and advancements, safety and testing requirements in China are not up to international standards," Rothschild wrote in blog post published on Tuesday.
The recent scandals also came a little more than two years after police in Shandong province said they had uncovered the illegal sale of vaccines worth nearly $90 million.