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        Supplements' quality scandals dampen trust

        Consumer confidence shattered as safety issues hang over Japan's pharma industry

        By JIANG XUEQING in Tokyo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-07 09:09
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        President of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Akihiro Kobayashi (2nd L) and others bow at a press conference in the city of Osaka, Japan, March 29, 2024. [Photo/Xinhua]

        Recent quality scandals involving Japanese pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns among many Chinese tourists and business travelers who say such incidents may erode their trust in Japanese drugs and health products.

        Li Xiang, a 42-year-old visitor from Shanghai on a business trip in Tokyo, expressed surprise upon learning about kidney disorders linked to Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's dietary supplements containing red yeast rice and Kyokuto's manipulation of test records for the gastrointestinal medicine Seirogan. He noted that Japanese products have long been trusted.

        "I'm not entirely surprised. We've seen in the news that in Japan, the older generation is still very dedicated and follows rules diligently, but it seems like the younger generation has changed somewhat," Li said.

        "When I buy health products or medicines in Japan, I feel a bit worried that the quality of the products may not be as guaranteed as people imagine."

        Before making a purchase, Li does a lot of research, searching for information online and relying on recommendations from friends, so as to ensure the product meets the standards that make him feel comfortable.

        Zhao Zhijie, a 60-year-old tourist from Shanghai, also usually buys medicine based on recommendations from friends.

        "The scandals involving Japanese pharmaceutical companies will affect my confidence in their products," she said in front of a drugstore in Tokyo's Shibuya district on Saturday.

        Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced that as of May 1, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical had reported 270 hospitalized patients due to the development of kidney diseases and other issues after taking its dietary supplements containing red yeast rice, or beni-koji.

        The Osaka-based drugmaker also reported five deaths linked to such products. Three supplement brands of the company were recalled due to safety concerns.

        Furthermore, Toyama Prefecture recently issued a business suspension order to pharmaceutical company Kyokuto in Toyama city. Manufacturing has halted for 23 days starting from April 30, while sale is suspended for 22 days.

        The company was found to have falsified test records for Seirogan, making it look like it met approval standards before shipping.

        This revelation has deeply concerned Toyama prefectural authorities, prompting disbelief and shock among industry insiders.

        The deficiencies came to light during a spot inspection conducted by the prefecture in July and August 2022. Consequently, Kyokuto voluntarily recalled 5.16 million units of the affected Seirogan from pharmacies nationwide.

        Kyokuto said an internal investigation discovered falsification of test results, failure to conduct acceptance tests for raw materials, and falsification of manufacturing records during the period from December 2021 to July 2022.

        Lack of awareness

        The company attributed the causes of the violations in this instance to a lack of compliance awareness among employees and deficiencies in its compliance framework.

        "Through our investigation, it became apparent that a corporate culture prioritizing the continuation of manufacturing and shipment over compliance with laws and procedures contributed to the aforementioned violations," said Kyokuto in a news release issued on April 26.

        Concerns about fraudulent manufacturing of pharmaceuticals have been raised nationwide. Including this incident, five companies in Toyama Prefecture, renowned for its pharmaceutical sector in Japan, have received administrative penalties involving business suspension orders over the past three years, public broadcaster NHK reported.

        Consumers like Li anticipate proactive measures from Japanese companies to address these issues.

        Kyokuto has announced its commitment to investigating the root causes of the problem and implementing measures to prevent recurrence. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, restoring consumer trust remains a formidable challenge.

        "Once a company loses the trust of consumers, it's very difficult to regain it. Now, in the age of the internet, negative news spreads quickly," Li said. "For me, if a company encounters such problems, I won't trust it anymore and won't consider buying its products again."

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