China seeks innovation in traditional medicine

The Chinese government wants to encourage innovation in Chinese medicine research Copyright: Flickr/jfchenier

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[BEIJING] In an attempt to promote innovation in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), China has launched a long-term development plan to boost research in the field.

The 15-year plan, launched this week (21 March), will establish a TCM-based system of disease prevention and clinical treatment, improve modern TCM manufacturing techniques and create a set of internationally recognisable TCM standards.

"Among all academic disciplines in China, the breakthroughs in TCM have the greatest potential for China to develop original scientific innovations," said Liu Yanhua, vice-minister of science and technology, speaking at the launch.

The plan was initiated by the Ministry of Science and Technology and involved 16 government ministries and administrations, including the Ministries of Health and Education, the State Administration of TCM and the China State Food and Drug Administration.

Unlike previous schemes, which stressed the modernisation of TCM with scientific methods, the new plan attaches equal importance to original TCM theories.

It says that both traditional knowledge and innovation are important to TCM’s development and that innovation should be based on the field’s traditional ethos and experience.

But the plan also seeks to establish a system of standards and regulations for TCM that will be recognised internationally.

Zhang Chaozhong of the TCM Development Strategy Research Group at the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China said, "Established European Union, United States and International Organization for Standardization drug evaluation standards are not suitable to evaluate TCM, as modern medicine and TCM are totally different medical systems."

He said that Western medicine is based on a clear understanding of disease-causing mechanisms in order to develop specific treatments.

In contrast, TCM treatments are based on functional analysis of the patient’s entire body, and use the body’s self-healing abilities along with drugs and other medications.

Wang Zhimin, director of the natural medicine department at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, said no matter how much the holistic and tailored characteristics of TCM are respected, their stability and reliability should be emphasised in order to increase recognition on the international market.