July 30, 2019 / 3:14 PM / 4 months ago

Congress seeks briefing on potential threat to U.S. heparin supply

WASHINGTON, July 30 (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration about the potential threat to the U.S. heparin supply due to the outbreak of African swine fever in China.

Heparin is currently on the FDA's drug shortage list.

Energy and Commerce chairman Frank Pallone, a Democrat, and its top Republican, Greg Walden, and four other bipartisan leaders said in a letter seen by Reuters that they seek information on "any contingency plans in the event of a serious shortage" and a briefing from FDA on its plans to address it.

The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Heparin, which the letter said is the only anticoagulant drug used in the United States for open heart surgeries and kidney dialysis, is derived from pig intestines. About 60 percent of the crude heparin used to make finished heparin in the United states is sourced from China, the letter said.

African swine fever, for which there is no cure and no vaccine, kills almost all infected pigs but does not harm people. The virus is similar to the strain found in recent years in Russia, Georgia and Estonia.

The World Organization for Animal Health said in May it will take years for China to contain the deadly African swine fever virus that has spread throughout the country, which is the world’s biggest pork producer,

As many as half of China’s breeding pigs have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the disease, industry insiders estimate.

The United States has previously had heparin shortages, as recently as when Baxter International Inc.'s supply was impacted by the effect of Hurricane Maria on its manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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