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Japanese authorities inspect second Kobayashi Pharma factory after deaths

TOKYO — Health authorities searched a second Kobayashi Pharmaceutical factory in western Japan on March 31 after the company reported five deaths possibly tied to dietary supplements, an official said.

The inspection in Wakayama prefecture followed a previous one on March 30 in Osaka, expanding the investigation into the drugmaker's use of "beni koji" red yeast materials.

Osaka-based Kobayashi said it found what appeared to be potentially toxic puberulic acid that could have been produced by blue mould penicillium in beni koji materials produced between last April and October at the Osaka factory.

As at March 29, 114 people had been hospitalised and five had died after taking the supplements, which were marketed as helping to lower cholesterol levels, the company said.

The cause of the deaths has not been confirmed, the official at Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry told Reuters. But "it is suspected that beni koji may be the cause, so we have inspected two factories in two days".

Kobayashi said on March 29 that it was investigating a suspected link between the products and their effects on the kidney after it received reports of kidney disease linked to the products.

"We will fully co-operate with the investigation so that we can resolve the problems as early as possible," the head of Kobayashi's investor relations, Yuko Tomiyama, told reporters on March 31 in footage shown by public broadcaster NHK.

The health official said the ministry "would join hands with other ministries concerned to do our utmost to resolve the ongoing case while asking Kobayashi Pharma to co-operate as needed in looking into the case".

The factory in Osaka's Yodogawa Ward was closed in December due to ageing facilities, and production shifted