SFDA official arrested in rabies vaccine scandal

Chinese flagAn official working for the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) has been arrested in connection with an ongoing investigation into the adulteration of thousands of doses of rabies vaccine.

Chinese newspaper the 21st Century Business Herald reports that the official, named as Wei Liang and said to work for the SFDA's Drug Registration Department, has been charged with taking bribes of around $145,000.

Wei Liang's arrest is the latest twist in a convoluted case in which workers at a vaccine manufacturing plant operated by Jiangsu Ealong Biotech Co have been questioned by police investigating what appears to be deliberate substitution of materials used in the manufacturing of rabies vaccines.

The resulting products will not provide the desired immunological protection against the disease but are unlikely to cause adverse effects, according to the SFDA.

Staff at another rabies vaccine-producing company - Hebei Bioforwell Co - have also been investigated but to date no evidence of criminal activity has been found, according to China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).

The investigation was launched after the SFDA discovered in December 2009 that more than 215,000 doses of rabies vaccine supplied by the two companies had quality problems, reports the Xinhua news agency. Some of the inferior vaccine may still be on pharmacy shelves, according to the SFDA.

While the problems with the Hebei Bioforwell product seem to be related to manufacturing compliance issues - the company's plant is currently shut down whilst being brought up to code - the initial indications are that staff at Ealong deliberately used inferior materials during manufacturing, did not follow validated manufacturing processes and misled investigators.

In 2007, former SFDA director Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced to death for corruption and taking bribes from companies in order to secure product approvals, including a substandard antibiotic product which went on to kill at least 10 people.

Cao Wenzhuang, another senior official in the SFDA's Drug Registration Department, was sentenced to death in 2007 but won a two-year reprieve with a chance for the penalty to be reduced to life imprisonment.

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