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More than 130 held in China vaccine scandal: reports
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 24, 2016

More than 130 suspects have been detained in connection with a vaccine scandal in China that has triggered outrage about safety, Chinese media reported Thursday, more than tripling the number held.

The case involves the illegal and improper storage, transport and sale of tens of millions of dollars' worth of vaccines -- many of them expired -- reports say.

It is the latest health and safety scandal to emerge in China, where 300,000 children fell ill, six of them dying, in a notorious 2008 case involving milk powder contaminated with melamine.

Public fury has erupted over authorities' delay in publicising the case, which only came to light this month despite the two key suspects, a mother and daughter from Shandong province in eastern China, being arrested in April 2015, almost a year ago.

The deputy chief of China's food and drug administration acknowledged shortcomings in the system Thursday, state broadcaster CCTV said on a verified social media account.

The fact that "a large number of vaccines flowed for a long time through illegal channels without regulators promptly discovering it shows there are loopholes in our regulations", it cited him as saying.

At the same press conference the deputy director of the ministry of public security said it was "thoroughly" investigating the case, it added.

The number of people held over the scandal had stood at 37 on Wednesday, according to reports. CCTV did not give details of the latest detentions.

From 2010, the two main suspects illegally sold 25 different kinds of expired or improperly stored vaccines worth more than 570 million yuan ($88 million), the official Xinhua news agency reported previously.

They included shots for polio, rabies, hepatitis B and flu for both children and adults, Caijing magazine said, citing drug safety officials.

Drugmaker Novartis settles with US over China bribe claims
Zurich (AFP) March 24, 2016 - Swiss drugmaker Novartis said Thursday it had reached a deal with US authorities to pay $25 million (22.4 million euros) to settle claims that its Chinese units bribed healthcare professionals to boost sales, including with family trips to Niagara Falls.

The drug giant agreed to pay the hefty fine "without admitting or denying" guilt, according to documents published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

According to the SEC findings, Novartis's China-based units had between 2009 and 2013 "provided things of value" mainly to doctors and other healthcare professionals.

"These payments took varied forms and were intended to ... increase sales of Novartis pharmaceutical products," said an SEC document filed late Wednesday.

The market regulator said healthcare providers were for instance invited on expensive trips, which in many cases "did not include an educational purpose or the scientific/educational components were minimal in comparison to the sightseeing or recreational activities."

In 2009, Novartis subsidiary Sandoz China for instance paid for 25 healthcare workers to take part in a surgical conference in Chicago, inviting along their spouses and taking the group on an excursion to the Niagara Falls. Each participant also received $150 in pocket money, the SEC document said.

Employees and managers at the involved units had tried to "conceal the true nature of the transactions", by for instance "improperly recording payments as legitimate expenses" for things like travel, entertainment, conferences and medical studies.

Novartis, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, thus stands accused of breaching the US Securities Exchange Act by not keeping accurate books and failing to maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls."

But the SEC noted that Novartis had cooperated with its investigation and opened its own internal probe, letting go or disciplining employees found at fault.

It has also since put stepped up its control mechanisms, the SEC said.

The pharmaceutical giant itself acknowledged the deal with the SEC, but stressed that the incidents in question "largely pre-date many of the compliance-related measures introduced by Novartis across its global organisation in recent years."

"We believe these measures, which we review and update on an ongoing basis, address the issues raised by the SEC," Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff told AFP.

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Previous Report
China vaccine scandal sees 37 detained
Beijing (AFP) March 23, 2016
At least 37 suspects have been detained and 13 wholesalers put under investigation over a vaccine scandal that has raised deep concern about safety, Chinese media said Wednesday. The case involves the illegal and improper storage, transport and sale of tens of millions of dollars' worth of vaccines - many of them expired, the official Xinhua news agency said. The incident is the latest ... read more

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