Over 33,000 illegal drug advertisements have been unearthed in China since the year started, according to the country's healthcare regulator which is looking to punish the firms involved.

Yang Jiangying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration, said that 33,130 misleading ads had been spotted, reports the country’s official Xinhua News Agency, and information on the offenders had been turned over to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce “for further investigation and related penalties”.

Drugmakers involved in these practices could have their licences revoked if they have been involved in producing illegal ads which contain "a large amount of unscientific assertion and pledges on the products' benefits and effects". The Chinese authorities have been running a campaign against such adverts since July and also appealed to the public to report any that make misleading claims.

One such claim cited by Xinhua involved an advert from Tonghua Shenlong Pharmaceutical Co, which said that one of its treatments, called Naoxintong, could produce “an instant effect on a patient who has suffered heart disease for seven or eight years".

The move is another example of China’s determination to clean up corrupt practices in the pharmaceutical industry. In July, a day after the execution of its former chief Zheng Xiaoyu for corruption, the SFDA announced plans to tighten approval regulations and strengthen the penalties for producing counterfeit drugs.

The country’s authorities also ordered a review of 170,000 drug production licenses granted while Mr Zheng was at a helm of the SFDA and before he was found guilty of taking bribes to approve untested products.