A top health official is calling for more support for traditional Chinese medicine and is proposing that TCM innovation and research are made a priority in national science and technology strategies.
“China has real advantages in the innovation of traditional Chinese medicine,” said Wang Guoqiang, head of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. “We have great potential in the innovation of TCM.”
The genre has gained much attention since Tu Youyou, a TCM researcher, won the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the malaria-fighting drug artemisinin. Wang said it is likely TCM will make more such contributions to the life sciences.
But Wang, who is also a vice-minister in charge of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said TCM technological innovation in China faces difficulties.
Innovation of new TCM products in China is mainly reliant on the work of universities and research institutes because many companies that produce commercial TCM products are unwilling to innovate and develop new medicines. He said this situation has resulted in the relative scarcity of newly patented TCM medications.
A lack of investment has also hindered innovation in TCM, Wang said.
The total investment in the government-backed program for innovation and the production of new drugs in the past five years was about 40 billion yuan ($6.2 billion), which was equivalent to one year’s investment in research and development by the US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, he said. Only a third of that total investment went toward the innovation and production of new TCM drugs, he added.
Research and development investment by Chinese TCM companies is running at about 1 to 2 percent of their total sales, which lags far behind the sort of investment made by leading international pharmaceutical companies, he said.
“We should realize our potential in the field of TCM and take advantage of our strengths in the knowledge, technology and industrial production,” Wang said. “China should elevate the practice of TCM, its innovation and research to a national strategy.”
The government should improve support for TCM by building national TCM laboratories and by launching major TCM innovation programs centering on major health challenges, he said.
Wang Jian, a researcher in HIV/AIDS at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, said a lack of scientific research has been a major obstacle in the development of TCM and in the international application of TCM.