The US Food and Drug Administration has been given the nod by US State Department to place eight of its inspectors in China, under a drive to strengthen ties with the country and help ensure that any food and medicines exported are safe.

On approval from the Chinese government, the FDA plans to employ and place its staff in the country over the next 18 months, as well as hire five local Chinese nationals to work with the new FDA staff at the US Embassy in Beijing and the US Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Chinese exports of pharmaceuticals to the USA have doubled in the last five years and, but there have been a significant number of fake or substandard products entering the country. According to the FDA, the permanent postings in China will make it easier for inspectors to carry out inspections and have a closer relationship with manufacturers, to help assure that products shipped to the US meet its standards for safety and manufacturing.

“In an age when a border is not a barrier, the globalised economy demands nothing less than heightened regulatory interoperability, information exchange, and cooperation, especially on product quality and enforcement matters,” explained Murray Lumpkin, deputy commissioner for International and Special Programs at the agency, and he said that “efforts to fill permanent FDA positions in China are a significant step toward ensuring access to safe food, drugs, and medical devices in the global market”.

The move falls in line with the FDA’s Beyond our Borders initiative, which is focused on strengthening ties with peer agencies around the world, and follows the signing of agreements in December last year by US and Chinese officials under which certain Chinese producers of goods will be required to register, submit to inspections and notify the authorities of any potential problems with their products.

Investigating heparin contamination
Meanwhile, China's State Food and Drug Administration is reportedly working closely with the FDA to root out the cause of serious adverse events linked to Baxter’s blood-thinner heparin in the US.

Earlier this year, Baxter was forced to temporarily suspend production of heparin at its plant in China following an increase in serious allergic reactions and low blood pressure in patients receiving high ‘bolus’ doses of the drug, which has been linked with 19 patient deaths.

According to the FDA, a contaminant has been identified that may be linked to the drug's problems. Although it remains unclear at what stage the contamination took place, reports emerged earlier this year that the facility in China where the blood-thinning agent is produced has not been inspected by US regulators.