Western and Chinese Medicine Working Together

In February of 2014, Bayer agreed to purchase the Dihon Pharmaceutical Group, a Chinese manufacturer, as a strategic approach to infiltrate the Chinese healthcare market and become the world’s largest non-prescription medicines group.

According to consulting firm McKinsey, China’s healthcare spending forecast is expected to triple to $1 trillion by 2020 from $357 billion in 2011.  These numbers have made China a magnet for makers of medicines and medical equipment.

In recent years, numerous Western companies have invested in Chinese medical research or products derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Most of the companies have focused on using Chinese medicine to expand their market share in China, while a few companies, such as Nestle, have chosen to pursue FDA approval for botanical drugs.

Nestle, partnered with Chi-Med, is the first to start the final clinical testing trials.  This is the final step before approval for sale, for a botanical drug, which treats inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, based on Traditional Chinese Medicine.  If Chi-Med and Nestle succeed in gaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, the companies will be at the forefront of exporting Chinese medicine globally.

Many widely-used drugs have been derived from Chinese herbal medicine. Most recently, artemisinin, which was isolated from qing hao, has been proven to treat malaria.  Despite success in the isolation of botanical drugs, recently revised FDA regulations may make it difficult to develop new plant-based drugs.  The greatest challenge lies in the ability to ensure the batch-to-batch consistency, given that plants-based components tend to vary based on soil, weather conditions, harvest time, genetics and various other factors.

Another problem that may occur with plant-based Chinese herbs, such as the case with lei gong teng for example, is even though it has profound pharmacological effects in treating pancreatic cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, it is also toxic to the liver.

New drug development has researchers strategically trying to pair the active ingredient with aptamers to form compound molecules that will allow the formula to target cancer cells while avoiding healthy liver cells.  This pairing of active ingredients with aptamers is similar to Chinese formula construction as a chief herb is paired together with a courier herb, where the courier herb directs the chief herb to the problem.

In everyday occurrences, Chinese medical practitioners frequently see cases where herbal therapy can achieve effects that cannot be matched by pharmaceutical drugs.  Nonetheless, Chinese herbs and traditional knowledge paired with Western research and technology may be able to identify how to create plant-based formulas that will be able to treat various troublesome diseases.

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