China to conduct nationwide pharma probe: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China will launch a three-month investigation into unfair competition in the pharmaceutical and other industries, state media reported on Wednesday, following bribery and price-fixing scandals.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce said it would conduct the nationwide investigation from Thursday until the end of November, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The probe will include medical services and other sectors including education, the report said.

"Commercial bribes push up prices, destroy market order and harm social morality and industrial atmosphere," Xinhua said in its report.

The Legal Daily newspaper, which also reported the investigation, said the inquiry will look into the payment of bribes in the sale of medicine, as well as ways to stop government departments and other organisations suppressing or restricting competition.

It cited an official at the State Administration for Industry and Commerce as saying that practices hindering fair competition such as bribes and fraud are getting worse, so the body is calling on local bureaus to launch their own investigations.

News of the latest investigation comes amid a host of scandals involving foreign drugmakers, including a bribery probe into British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that has seen at least 20 people arrested since the beginning of July.

Beijing city health and corruption officials, meanwhile, have launched an investigation into allegations staff at French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi bribed more than 500 Chinese doctors with a total of about US$280,000 (S$356,000), state media reported last week.

Danish pharmaceutical group Novo Nordisk, the world's leading insulin maker, said last week that Chinese authorities had contacted it following the corruption probe into GSK.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, is currently investigating 60 foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies over their prices.

Last week the commission fined six manufacturers of baby formula a total of more than US$100 million for price-fixing.

Among them was New Zealand's Fonterra, the world's biggest dairy company and the subject of a botulism health scare earlier this month.

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