To Establish HK as a Chinese Medicine Internationall Center

  Council,  MCMIA

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Changes in the World

While fundamental changes are happening in China’s healthcare system and the pharmaceutical sector, corresponding changes are also taking place in many parts of the world as herbal medicine is gaining prominence.

WHO statistics showed that 80% or 4 billion of the world population still depend on traditional medicine for their primary healthcare. In reaching for the goal of “Health for All”, WHO has set directives to support the development of traditional medicine through the harmonization of international standards. This resulted in the publication of a number of monographs on herbs, acupuncture points, terminology and preparations for the introduction of traditional medicine in the next edition of International Classification of Diseases. In the process, WHO has also commissioned the development of Clinical Practice Guidelines and standardization of the disease patterns for Chinese Medicine.

A 2008 Nutraceuticals World article quoted the German consulting firm, Analyze & Aealize Ag’s estimate of about US$83 billion global market for herbal remedies across all segments with annual growths ranging between 3-12% depending on the segments. Herbal dietary supplements ($11 billion) and herbal functional foods ($14 billion) make up over a third of the market. The global herbal pharmaceutical industry (including drugs from herbal precursors and registered herbal medicine) contributes $44 billion and herbal beauty products make up the remaining $14 billion of the market. In the global cosmetics market, herbal ingredients are estimated to have a 6% share of the market and are exhibiting the strongest growth between 8% and 12 %.

Today, the Asian herbal market (excluding Japan) is estimated to be worth about $6.4 billion. This increase is expected to continue. In Japan alone, the market is worth well over $2.6 billion today.

The growing international herbal markets generate demands for modernized and effective CMs to cater to the needs of both underdeveloped and advanced countries alike to help lower their overall healthcare and health maintenance costs. Hence, it is not surprising that underdeveloped countries have long welcomed CM while the wealthier western nations in the world are opening their doors to Chinese medicine as well.

Countries, such as USA, Canada, UK, Thailand, S Africa, Singapore, Australia (the Victoria Province) etc., are embracing CM to various degrees, hoping that it will help mitigate their heavy healthcare burden and treat chronic diseases that plague most of the aging western societies. Thus far, none of these potentially vast markets’ potentials have been fully recognized, let alone exploited. HK could stand a good chance to capture these markets if prompt actions are taken.

ON REGULATIONS – A number of western countries are becoming more cognizant  about CM. Australia’s Victoria Province recently has all but completely embrace CM by recognizing both the TCM practice and the herbal remedies. Canada’s new Natural Health Product regulations allow a wide spectrum of claims for herbal preparations depending on the level of supporting clinical evidence and/or historical traditions. This new law has opened up a huge market in N America for CM to enter not only as healthfoods or dietary supplements but also as products in OTC markets. Japan also recently increased the TCM preparations included in the National Insurance List to 210. These formulations are recognized to be safe and effective and their sales in Japan do not require additional clinical verification.

United States remains a relatively easy market to enter because it designates most over-the-counter CMs as dietary supplements, a category which has been rather loosely regulated since 1994. Even so, most CMs are still confined to China Towns because of their lack of distinguishing features, brand name recognitions and mainstream market acceptability. This may change soon when more CM companies participate in the USP-MCMIA DSVP Certification Scheme (see next section) for modernized CM.

Although some regions such as EU are tightening up their regulations towards CM, however, as more and more modernized and evidence-based CMs enter the market these regulations could be used as a badge of confidence for the qualified CMs.

ON THE SCIENTIFIC FRONT – International scientific collaborations of CM are expected to flourish following MOST’s announcement of the “Guideline for International Scientific Cooperation in Chinese Medicine (2006-20)”. A case at hand is Harvard University’s Division of Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies of the Osher Institute, which sought to form a research network with the CM researchers in the Greater China region to screen and develop anti-cancer CM. Yale University has also formed a company, Phytoceutica, to handle products of CM research, from laboratory to bedside. UK’s Cambridge University formed an institute for CM research on campus with the support from a Mainland CM company.

In response to demand, the NCCAM (National Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine) under NIH (National Institute of Health) of USA has been increasing their research funding on CM. Australia has also formed a NICM (National Institute of Complementary Medicine Management) with federal funding supporting R&D leading to commercializable products/technologies.

HK’s scientists and CM organizations, such as MCMIA, can play an important role in the organization of an international CM technology network for these entities and help them reap the benefits of being partners in this global CM scientific web. On the business side, with HKTDC as a partner and using ICMCM (see below) as a vehicle, MCMIA has already created an effective network connecting CM businesses, practitioners, scientists, academician and government officials from all over the world with HK as a platform.

At the dawn of a global CM scientific/business network and market, HK should try to engage itself early on with this new and potentially immense community. If HK does not get its foot in the door now, in a few years, it might find itself to have much fewer leverage to be a significant participant in this community.

When the wave of new, modernized CMs from China begins to sweep the global market in the coming years, will HK be at the forefront to help usher them to the world? This will depend on whether HK begins now to prepare for this eventuality by starting to build a strong CM industry in HK.