BEIJING: Swiss-based Roche Pharmaceuticals is under investigation in China for allegedly spreading rumours about a mysterious pneumonia virus that has killed five and hospitalised 300, state media said yesterday.
The company allegedly held a press conference on Feb 8 in Guangzhou claiming the illness spreading through the province was a potentially deadly bird flu that could be treated with the Roche-made antibiotic Dafei, the China Daily said.
Panic spread as the rumour was passed around via mobile phone Short Messaging Service, local officials said.
“Pharmaceutical companies are forbidden from holding press conferences or promotional meetings to introduce prescription drugs,” the Beijing Youth Daily said.
The paper quoted Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese Academy of Science researcher, as saying Dafei was not effective in treating bird flu or killing the pneumonia virus.
Roche is believed to have seen sales of the drug more than doubled after the press conference, state media said, noting more than 105,000 extra boxes of the antibiotic were sold in Guangdong between Feb 8 and 13.
The Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Medicine Supervision is now collecting evidence, the paper cited an unidentified official as saying.
Authorities could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for Roche's Shanghai division, the Shanghai Roche Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, said it did not have an immediate response to the reports.
“The whole issue is still under investigation,” she said.
The company issued a statement saying its drug was an antibiotic used to treat flu and that it could not guarantee the quality of any drug not obtained through “professional channels.”
Two other companies that illegally boosted prices since the virus scare began were fined 200,000 yuan (RM92,000) each.
Another firm was ordered to halt business for a week, the China Daily said.
More than 150 companies and stores that illegally raised the price of traditional Chinese herbal mixes, vinegar used to disinfect homes or other products were told to pay back the extra money they charged. – AFP
Did you find this article insightful?