China, India ‘should boost traditional medicine innovation’

India already backs research into traditional medicine and practices, such as yoga Copyright: Flickr/Nicoletta Fabbri

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[NEW DELHI] Government think-tanks in China and India have recommended a jointly funded initiative to strengthen traditional medicine innovations in both countries.

At the International Conference on Equity and Access to Medicine: Role of Innovation and Institutions earlier this month (12–13 May), India’s Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development (CASTED), said the initiative could encourage industrial innovations for diseases of the poor, such as tuberculosis and leishmaniasis.

"The China–India Traditional Medicine Health Impact Initiative (CITHII) aims to unite the two countries in a venture to use public money to induce the private sector to strengthen traditional medicine which serves a large part of the population in these countries," Biswajit Dhar, director-general of RIS, told the conference.

Both countries have a rich knowledge base to work from. India has a government department for the promotion of traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda and yoga, and China has been increasing its patents, and research and development funding, for traditional Chinese medicine.

The initiative draws on the idea of the Health Impact Fund, developed by Yale University, United States, and the University of Calgary, Canada, as a mechanism for financing research into medicines that are not commercially attractive to the pharmaceutical industry.

Researchers involved in the new collaboration said that the fund would prioritise such neglected innovations.

"It will establish an alternative system of patents where patent holders will be rewarded with public funds in proportion to the impact of their innovation on the health problems of the poor," said Sachin Chaturvedi, a senior fellow at RIS.

"Such medicines would be available at competitive market prices and patent holders would not be able to prevent reproduction of their inventions."

The initiative would also develop criteria for the selection of cost-effective drugs; support the development of uniform standards for clinical trials of traditional medicines; set up methods for the scientific validation of formulations for developing herbal drugs; and work on the conservation and cultivation of selected medicinal plants.

Researchers from both think-tanks have identified common policy requirements to be addressed. One example is establishing guidelines for clinical trials, standardisation of traditional medicines and their quality control.

"Innovations in traditional systems of medicine will certainly improve through co-operation between India and China," said Zhiqian Gao, a professor at CASTED. He suggested that the pharmaceutical industries of both countries could also contribute funds to the initiative.