Japanese firm mishandles deadly ‘biological warfare’ toxin

Tokyo, Dec 21 (IANS) Japan’s health ministry conducts a probe into a pharmaceutical firm over its suspected mishandling of a potentially lethal toxin which can be used for biological warfare.

The Chemo-Sero-Therapeutic Research Institute, also known as Kaketsuken, was inspected by officials on Monday, the media reported.

According to ministry officials, the drug maker had failed to correctly inform the relevant authorities when it came to the transportation of a toxin known as Botulinum, which is an ingredient used by the firm in the manufacturing of drugs to treat food poisoning.

Kaketsuken, the ministry said, transported the toxin between two of its sites in Kumamoto, in breach of the ministry’s rules about notification which requires it to be informed if more than 0.1 mg of the potentially lethal toxin is transported.

The ministry said it had found the firm in violation of its transportation rules on at least four separate occasions since 2007.

While the firm said they have accounted for all of their Botulinum-derived drugs during the periods of illicit transportation, the ministry has lambasted the firm as if the drugs had fallen into the “wrong hands” they could be used to make lethal biological weapons.

Botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous biological substances known to science.

Kaketsuken came under fire earlier this month for illegally covering up manufacturing of blood products for a period spanning 40 years, which also saw the firm lie to HIV-infected patients, a panel investigating the firm said on December 2.

The firm was found to have increased its manufacturing output by means that had not been approved by the health ministry and had falsified documents to do so.

On December 3 the health ministry raided the facilities in Kumamoto. All of its directors including Director-General Seiji Miyamoto, subsequently said they would relinquish their positions to take responsibility for the four-decade scandal.

The panel’s investigations found that Kaketsuken had been falsifying documents to allow it to take shortcuts since 1974, with its illicit procedures escalating in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The company was sued in 1989 by HIV-infected hemophiliacs for receiving tainted products. The lawsuit was not settled till 1996, when both the government and the Kaketsuken-linked companies paid 45 million yen ($370,000) to each plaintiff.

Kaketsuken’s malpractice caused 2,000 hemophiliacs to contract HIV from unheated blood products but their systematic falsification of documents continued long after the settlement, the panel found.

Kaketsuken is one of Japan’s oldest manufacturers of blood products and vaccines.

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