Not so long ago I heard that the Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory had established by its own effort and technology a GMP-based integrated production system, the first of its kind in the pharmaceutical industry in Korea. So I visited the factory.

Hundreds of persimmon trees, other good species of tall trees and varieties of flowering trees grew around the compound of the factory. In the compound Chief Engineer Pyon Chang Ju welcomed me. As I congratulated him for the establishment of the aforesaid production system, Pyon, with an awkward smile, said they still had a lot of things to do, and led me to the integrated control office.

The integrated control office

The integrated control office

Screens on a wall of the office showed the condition of all production processes. Introducing two processes displayed on two of the screens as those for production of tablets and Koryo medicines, the chief engineer said that the processes had earned GMP certificates of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

When I asked him what he had found most difficult in establishing the integrated production system, he said, “There were technical problems, and what was more serious was our weak technical force. My factory had no experience in manufacturing modern equipment. You see, desire is not all that is needed to make a breakthrough in modern science and technology.”

Now he showed me round modern medicine production processes. According to him, all the processes for raw material feeding, pulverizing, sieving, mixing, drying, tablet-shaping, moulding, sugar-coating and so on underwent technical renovation. This made it possible to produce more and better medicines than before, he mentioned and told about details of how they had installed high-capacity air conditioners in order to make the workshops free from germs and dust. They got a lot of help from scientists and researchers of the State Academy of Sciences, he said and explained about several machines, including a high-speed mixer, an air-tight sugar-coating machine and a tablet counter, which he said they had made by pooling efforts with the scientists and researchers.

Pointing to the high-speed mixer Pyon said remorsefully, “It was quite tough to make the machine. The first trial operation of the machine was not successful. Because of the rotating speed of the high-speed rotation axis and the ensuing vacillation the mixing blades got out of balance making the machine abnormal. So we disassembled the machine time and again to fi nd out the cause. We were so worried that we had an absurd idea of importing a similar machine.”

Now Pyon guided me to the Koryo medicine production process. It had also been a dif fi cult job to complete the process, he said. “But in the course of learning one thing after another from the scientists and researchers we gradually came to know the ropes and thus had confidence. We manufactured and installed the herb-sorter, the washer, the dryer and the crushing mill by ourselves. Totally over 180 machines of over 100 kinds were manufactured and installed. This helped improve the quality of the products. Now I think we can manufacture any machine.” I also looked round a sample room and a sci-tech learning space.

On display in the room were over 1 200 items of over 60 kinds including aspirin, tetracycline, in-dan , Saposolum and Omija (fruit of Schizandra chinensis ) syrup. The guide of the room proudly said that the demand for the medicines for general uses had grown higher after the factory established the GMP-based integrated production system. In the sci-tech learning space there were workers and technicians studying modern science and technology after work. When I was photographing them Pyon said, “It is only our first step. GMP requires us to attain a higher goal. While establishing the GMP- based integrated production system we keenly felt that we should learn much more in order to take a higher and faster leap.” I left the factory picturing in my mind its better future.