China’s Death Sentence for its former SFDA Chief:”Kill the Chicken so the Monkey Starts Behaving”

Today brought news that Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the SFDA, China's FDA equivalent, has been sentenced to death.  He has the right to appeal the decision. NPR's marketplace aired an interview with its Shanghai correspondent Scott Tong (link to full audio and transcript here). However, the formally stated reasons for the execution are not what one might expect. When I first saw the headline, I'd assumed it was due to the explosive growth of drug counterfeiting within China and exports of fake drugs and APIs from China to the rest of the world.  Instead Mr. Zheng is to receive the ultimate sentence for accepting over $800,000 in bribes to expedite approval of drugs in China, a charge that led to his expulsion from the Communist Party in March. As Pharma Times reports, the bribes, which included cash and gifts (including paintings), came from pharmaceutical companies, notably the Hainan Kongliyuan Group from Hainan in southern China. The heads of that company have also been detained, Pharma Times reports. The sentence sends a clear message regarding Quanxi, the complex web of "personal connections building" that has often been required to do business, and has sometimes led to bribery. But it also signals a more serious approach to ensuring drug safety. In relaxing the safety requirements for the drug approvals, Zheng's actions are likely to have indirectly contributed to the rise in counterfeit drug and API trafficking. Zheng, 62, is from Fujian, according to a CNN report, and headed the Agency from 1998 through 2005, during which time there were a string of deaths due to fake baby formula powder Under Zheng's watch, dozens died in China from fake or bad drugs and food products, including fake baby formula. Although unrelated, this news begs questions about global penalties for drug counterfeiting. In many countries, anyone who knowingly makes or distributes fake drugs gets off with a fine and a relatively short prison sentence---even if those "drugs" ultimately kill or hurt someone. So far, India is the only country that has voted to punish drug counterfeiting with the death penalty.  Will there be harsher penalties, around the world, for drug counterfeiting?
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