China investigates former top healthcare official Wang Yu for bribery

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China is investigating the former head of a healthcare ministry unit responsible for drug trials and leading implementation of healthcare policy for bribery, a prosecutor said.

A court in Sichuan province announced on Tuesday it was investigating Wang Yu, the former top official at the Bureau of Medical Administration, as part of a crackdown on corruption in the healthcare sector.

An official at the health ministry declined to give immediate comment when contacted by telephone while an official at the specific bureau declined to comment. Reuters was unable to reach Wang for comment.

The bureau, part of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, oversees the drafting and implementation of healthcare policy, manages clinical trials and helps supervise the operation of public hospitals.

China's fast-growing healthcare market, the second largest in the world, has been in the spotlight over the last two years with a far-reaching corruption investigation into the drug sector leading to a near US$500 million fine against British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC last year.

The investigations, part of President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption, have thrown an unwelcome spotlight on healthcare executives, doctors and officials. Sources this month said the investigations had started to spread to the medical device sector.

A top health official in the city of Shanghai was sentenced to prison this year after being found guilty of taking bribes, corruption and embezzlement.

China is a magnet for drugmakers, medical device firms and hospital operators, with spending on medicines alone set to hit as much as $185 billion by 2018, according to IMS Health. The country's overall healthcare bill is expected to rise to US$1 trillion by 2020, according to McKinsey & Co.