To Establish HK as a Chinese Medicine Internationall Center

  Council,  MCMIA

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Changes in Hong Kong

During the last decade, the landscape of HK CM has also changed drastically. CM has transformed itself from a practice that was benignly neglected or even looked down upon during the British rule to a more respected profession that often commands fees at par or higher than its western counterpart. Some high-end CM products are also selling at prices undreamed of in the past.

Unlike prior to 1997, when the quality of CM practice and products are largely “unknown” to most people, now all CM activities operate within the purview of the Chinese Medicine Ordinance enacted in 1999. The CM industry and products have been regulated since 2000 by the Chinese Medicine Board. These legislative processes have brought higher confidence and credibility to the whole industry.

HK’s CM education has now broken out of its former private, unlicensed tutoring mode and developed into 3 respected TCM medical schools located in 3 prestigious universities of HK. Today, 6 HK universities have their own CM research programs led by dozens of senior researchers, many of whom have cross-border and international collaborations. HKPU (HK Polytechnic University) even operates a CM research facility with a State Key Laboratory standing in Shenzhen.

In 2003, CGCM (Consortium for Globalization of Chinese Medicine 中藥全球化聯盟), led by Prof. Tommy Cheng of Yale University, was founded and headquartered in the Hong Kong University. It is a coalition of about 100 international institutions and universities that cooperate with one another to engage in various CM R&D projects. They range from basic research to new CM product developments funded by HSRF (Health Services Research Fund), ITF (Innovative Technology Fund), UGC (University Grants Committee), HKJC (Hong Kong Jockey Club) and other local and international agencies. Its ‘new drug discovery’ resulted in several patent applications. CGCM exemplifies the overwhelming advantages HK has over other locations as a global CM scientific center.

In 2006, MCMIA and 4 HK universities founded CMQA (Chinese Medicine Quality Advancement Group), an organization that is devoted to address the important issues of CM quality. The group has since been awarded its first grant from ITF to conduct research on a model CM formulation in order to determine the parameters that are relevant in CM quality control. The group is likely to secure additional funding in the near future so that other important CM problems can also be investigated. The results obtained could then be used to develop new CM quality assurance and regulation guidelines as well as novel products.

HK traditionally enjoys good international reputation and credibility in conducting clinical trials. By the end of FY 08-09, Hospital Authority (HA), would have established a network of 14 tri-partite CM centers in service, training and research. Working together with NGOs (Non Government Organizations) and universities, the network has identified, through systematic review of modern and classical literature, major disease burdens with clinical advantage of CM as topics for future research.

With supports from HA’s expertise in clinical research methodology and ethics, the network is well positioned to engage in clinical studies for CM products. It also opened a toxicology laboratory with a strategy to address adverse drug reactions and drug-herb interactions. This will be valuable in helping CMs gain international recognition for their claimed safety and efficacy with data accumulated in HK. Furthermore, the CM centers offer reliable choices to local citizens and provide postgraduate training and career opportunities for CM graduates.

The potential important contribution of HK to the overall development of CM nationally is recognized in November 2007 with the signing of an MOU between SATCM and HK’s Food and Health Bureau [See Appendix V]. In this MOU, both sides agreed to collaborate in a wide range of areas and activities in CM. This is the first time the Hong Kong government commits itself to support CM in a document. The Bureau should now take concrete steps to implement the MOU in order to live up to its commitments.

One of the most prominent achievements in HK CM during the past ten years was the organization of the annual ICMCM (International Conference & Exhibition of the Modernization of Chinese Medicine & Health Products) by MCMIA and HKTDC. ICMCM is a collection of activities catering to all the sub-sectors within the local and international CM communities. It consists of an exhibition, a conference for the CM professionals, a series of business matching and promotional activities for the exhibitors and buyers at the fair, a free CM Health Forum for the general public, a CM Educational Display designed by the TCM Schools’ students and a Postgraduate Student CM Symposium where university researchers’ CM achievements can be showcased to international visitors. In addition, there are other activities sponsored or organized by foreign consulates, buyer groups and exhibitors.

In short, ICMCM, which was first launched in 2002, is now a unique leading international platform for TCM practitioners, company executives, government officials, scientists and academics to congregate to exhibit new products, equipment and technologies, to learn about the latest development in international regulations, exchange scientific information and to establish business connections.

Every year, about 90,000 visitors patronized ICMCM to view the exhibits displayed by about 200 exhibitors coming from about a dozen countries. In the last 2 years, the number of outside HK buyers and buyer groups jumped by about 50% per year, indicating clearly that ICMCM had been gaining international recognition and prominence. For example, in 2007, the Canadian delegation doubled in size to about 50 delegates while the Japanese delegation expanded 3 fold to 30 people. ICMCM has gained so much attention and respect that some Central government agencies have been monitoring it as an important international platform for CM from China.

Last year (2007), ICMCM began to catch the attention of international press. Both the Asia Wall Street Journal and Reuter reported the event and the recent development of modernized Chinese medicines [See Appendix VI]. Other articles on similar subjects also appeared in Toronto Sun and the Canadian Asia Network Magazine.

As CM products improve in quality and the international regulatory environment becomes more cognizant and accommodating, services offered by HK firms to register, market and distribute HK and Mainland modernized CM products internationally will be more and more in demand. This is the kind of role HK plays best as an international portal and a professional distributor for high quality products to the global markets.

When HK’s reputation for high quality is coupled with CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), the result is a scheme that entices both Mainland and international CM manufacturers (such as Tong Ren Tang and Eu Yan Sang) to set up production facilities and headquarters in HK. The products are then sold to the Mainland market as tariff-free premium products and to the world market as quality and reliable preparations. This scheme is well served by HK’s new CM Ordinance’s GMP certification. In this case, HK government’s continual support of CEPA serves as a example of what the government can do to re-energize the once declining CM manufacturing sector in HK.

The importance of HK as a two-way international conduit between China and the rest of the world was not lost among foreign government agencies either. A good example is the contractual engagement between USP (US Pharmacopoeia) and MCMIA to co-develop a DSVP (Dietary Supplement Verification Program) scheme for the Greater China Region to help exporting CM products verified by USP for their quality and safety. The companies of these products can then leverage on USP’s authoritative certification to help create brand name recognitions for their products and their companies internationally. This scheme is likely to accelerate the internationalization of quality CM product in the world market.

The development of CM in the past 10 years has been so overwhelmingly positive and promising that the HK government bureaus should study this evolving CM industry and markets. It should create and maintain the necessary conditions for the industry to thrive and excel. Specifically, the government should step in and help in the modernization of the industry so that it can capture the surging opportunities in the coming decades and to secure for HK a unique position as an international center for CM.