This year was a year where the word “safety” was particularly highlighted in the healthcare industry. The N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a potentially carcinogenic substance, which caused a ruckus after being detected in valsartan-based antihypertensive treatment last year, was further extended to ranitidine and nizatidine. Earlier this month, the medical community was startled when the carcinogenic substance was found in some metformin products, which is the most widely used diabetes treatment in Korea. Also, the importance of drug safety was further highlighted through Allergan's breast implant safety issue and Kolon Life Science's Invossa incident. Along with safety issues, Korea Biomedical Review looked back on major issues that have affected the medical industry this year. - Ed
During this year, Japan's export restrictions led to a nationwide boycott of Japanese products. The boycott, which began at the private level, soon spread to the pharmaceutical sector. As a result, Japanese pharmaceutical and medical device companies based in Korea walked on the thin ice due to such negative sentiment.
The boycott on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical companies, which began among private social media platforms, was quickly picked up by pharmacist YouTubers as well as statements from the local pharmacy community that they will participate in the boycott. The boycott soon spread to the public.
However, the boycott movement was limited to OTC and quasi-drugs.
This is because the majority of doctors, who prescribe ethical drugs (ETC), stressed that doctors shouldn't link international diplomatic issues to medical judgments that can directly affect patients' lives.
Some even called for the government to disclose the list of imported drug substances to Japan. However, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety also said, “Even in war, patients are protected. ETC drugs are different from other industrial products as they are directly related to the health of patients, and the disclosure of such products would hurt public health.”
The Japanese drug boycott, which was in full throttle at the beginning of the second half of this year, has now been somewhat subdued.
A boycott was also launched in the medical device industry but failed to resonate with the public.
While some online communities unveiled a list of hospitals using Japanese medical devices and asked its users to refrain from using such hospitals, the idea failed to raise participation as various users noted that hospitals are linked to public health and that hospitals have been using the device even before Japan's export restrictions.
According to the Korea Medical Devices Industry Association, there are about 30 Japanese medical device companies in Korea importing and selling finished medical devices.
However, the association expects that the number of imported parts or finished products will be higher than the estimates made by the 30 companies as non-corporate importers also bring in products from Japan.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety formed a task force to respond to Japan's export restrictions after Japan excluded Korea from its list of trusted trading partners, also known as the “whitelist,” and examined the impact and response status by sector.
Also, in preparation for unexpected situations, the ministry opened up a section on its webpage to allow companies to report any difficulties in exporting their products to Japan.
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