Alibaba bans any trade in pharmaceuticals on its platform

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has introduced a ban on the sale of any pharmaceutical product or ingredient on its main website.

First announced on April 20, the move applies to the listing and trading of all pharmaceutical products, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and pharmaceutical intermediates.

The restrictions also extend to veterinary drugs, traditional Chinese medicines and herbal medicinal products, according to the company, which says its ban stands "regardless of whether the seller, the buyer, the manufacturer or the product has relevant qualifications."

The ban will likely be welcomed by the international pharmaceutical industry, which has long pointed the finger at business-to-business trade boards like Alibaba as a source of materials used to manufacture falsified and adulterated medicinal products.

As of April 28, says Alibaba, non-compliant products will be removed from listing or deleted, and penalties will be imposed against sellers who continue to offer these products. That could include permanent termination of accounts for repeat offenders.

A quick search on Alibaba today for sildenafil – the API found in Pfizer's often-counterfeited erectile dysfunction drug Viagra – found no listings. However, searching for misspellings such as 'sildenafile' or 'sildelafile' still yielded hundreds of results (see below for examples), suggesting Alibaba still has work to do to enforce its prohibition.

"In light of the regulatory requirements and the high risk nature of pharmaceutical products, has revised the 'Rules of Prohibited and Restricted Products' to assist members in complying with applicable laws and maintain the sustainable development of the platform," said the company in the notice to its clients.

For companies whose primary business involves the products that fall under the four affected categories – medicines, pharmaceuticals, veterinary medicines and herbal medicines – Alibaba's advice is to switch to another industry. If that isn't possible, it says it may offer a refund for membership.

Existing orders placed or paid by buyers before April 28 need to be completed before May 31, but no new orders or payment for orders should be accepted after April 28.

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