House Republicans relaunch investigation into tainted heparin

Republicans on the Energy and Commerce are still gung-ho about an investigation into drug safety shortcomings that they launched three years ago when they were in the minority.

Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Wednesday and questioned "the adequacy of FDA's handling" of the inquiry into contaminated heparin from China that killed several dozen people in 2008. Upton gave Hamburg a mere two weeks to turn over all documents concerning the FDA's heparin-related inspections in China and its insights into the sources and methods of contamination.

"It is important to determine how the adulteration happened so that industry and government can take more effective proactive measures to reduce the risk of such adulteration in the future," reads the letter, which was also signed by oversight subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

Heparin is a blood thinner made from pigs' intestines that's widely used for kidney dialysis and surgery. More than 80 percent of the U.S. supply comes from China, according to the letter.

Hundreds of people fell ill in 2008 from heparin that officials believe was deliberately watered down with a shellfish-derived supplement to cut costs.

A Government Accountability Office report released last year faulted the FDA for allowing Chinese heparin to be imported into the United States from firms that refused to grant inspectors full access to records and labs. The report, requested by then-ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), also faulted FDA's reliance on outside experts with links to heparin companies.