China’s Chokehold on America’s Drug Supply is a Nightmare Come True

By Cathalijne Adams
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Experts foretell catastrophic consequences to Chinese domination of the pharmaceutical industry.

China has gained a chokehold on America’s pharmaceuticals, experts warn, creating a critical leverage point that, if it were to be exploited, could lead to catastrophe. Testimony before Congress this Wednesday highlighted China’s domination of the pharmaceutical industry as a strategic move meant to undermine our nation's security.

“China has an active plan to become an increasingly dominant source of medicines to the world,” Michael Wessel, a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said. “Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are a key sector in their Made in China 2025 and 13th Five-Year plans. Billions of dollars of support are coupled with government policies, investment strategies, and intellectual property acquisition approaches, both licit and illicit. China wants to win, and it has a plan to do so.”

China is well on its way to achieving this mission. Currently, it supplies as much as 80 percent of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients – the stuff that actually makes medicine work – according to Rosemary Gibson, senior advisor at The Hastings Center and author of ChinaRx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine.

“China understands the importance of the sector as an economic and innovation engine but also because of its national security implications,” Wessel said. “Our increasing dependence on China poses many risks not only due to the potentially unsafe medications but because of China’s ability to potentially weaponize its supply chains should it so choose.”

America’s dependence on China for active pharmaceutical ingredients has created a tremendous threat to the wellbeing of our citizens and our military. Such prognostications might sound alarmist off-hand, but we’ve already seen just how vulnerable the United States’ drug supply is.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled blood pressure medication valsartan, which was found to be contaminated with a carcinogen due to subpar manufacturing. Valsartan’s active ingredients, like that of the majority of the world’s drug supply, originated in China and India – in plants with histories of manufacturing problems.

Since the FDA launched its investigation into valsartan, drug companies have recalled several other common blood pressure and heart medications, namely losartan and irebesartan, that have been shown to contain the same carcinogen. And just this October, the FDA began an investigation into whether popular over-the-counter heartburn medication Zantac has also been contaminated with the carcinogen.

The answer to these problems? A strong domestic manufacturing base for pharmaceuticals.

As more and more Americans are becoming aware of the danger lurking within their medicine cabinets, lawmakers are moving to support means to rebuild that base.

Want to dive deeper? Listen to this episode of The Manufacturing Report podcast for more from ChinaRx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine author Rosemary Gibson, who also testified at the hearing.