BEIJING — China’s pharmaceutical watchdog has suspended the sale of a drug used to treat acute leukemia and rheumatoid arthritis in the latest move to hit the country’s scandal-ridden drug industry.
The Chinese government has been trying to toughen its drug regulations as criticism mounts at home and abroad that the quality of its drugs, food and other products is poorly regulated.
In the past week, a former department head at the State Food and Drug Administration was sentenced to death on bribery charges, and it was announced that production licenses of five drug manufacturers had been pulled in the past year and that 128 others had been penalized.
U.S. regulators ordered recalls of three more Chinese-made products deemed dangerous to children, part of a lengthening list of U.S. government actions to ban, recall or restrict Chinese imports, from juice to toothpaste, suspected of containing high levels of toxins.
In a notice posted late Saturday on its Web site, the State Food and Drug Administration said it had suspended the sale of methotrexate made by Shanghai Hualian Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.
The statement said it caused adverse reactions in several young leukemia patients in hospitals in southern China and the eastern financial center of Shanghai.
“Some of the children have felt pain in their legs and some have experienced difficulty in walking after being injected with the methotrexate drug numbered 070403A and 070403B,” the statement said.
“Local drug regulators have been ordered to re-evaluate the drug,” it said.
On Friday, a Beijing court sentenced Cao Wenzhuang, a department director at the State Food and Drug Administration, to death with a two-year reprieve on charges of accepting bribes and neglecting official duties, said his attorney, Gao Zicheng.
Such suspended death sentences usually are commuted to life in prison if the convict is deemed to have reformed.
Cao, who oversaw the pharmaceutical registration department, was secretary to Zheng Xiaoyu, the head of the agency, in the 1980s. Zheng was sentenced to death in May for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths.
In the pharmaceuticals department, Cao, 45, had the power to approve pharmaceutical production in China from 2002 to 2006.
A day after the sentencing, the official China Daily reported that the food and drug watchdog had pulled the production licenses of five drug makers in the past year and penalized 128 other companies.
China’s pharmaceutical industry is lucrative but poorly regulated. Some companies try to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients.
The latest U.S. recalls announced Thursday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission covered jewelry that the agency said could cause lead poisoning. They also covered a magnetic building set and plastic castles with small parts, which it said could choke children.