CHINA-US: Collaboration in traditional Chinese medicine

China and the United States have signed a memorandum of understanding to foster collaboration between scientists in both countries in research on integrative and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The memorandum, signed by US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and Chinese Vice-Minister of Health Wang Guoqiang, will aid in furthering scientific research on traditional Chinese medicine, stimulate scientific cooperation on how Western medicine can be informed by TCM and help blend knowledge from the two systems.

"Many Americans incorporate alternative medical practices into their personal health care and are interested in the potential of a variety of traditional Chinese medicine approaches," Leavitt said. "This project will advance our understanding of when and how to appropriately integrate traditional Chinese medicine with Western medical approaches to improve the health of the American and Chinese people."

The signing took place last month at the National Institutes of Health ahead of a two-day roundtable on traditional Chinese medicine research. This featured presentations by researchers from China and the US on the synthesis of Western medicine and TCM, criteria for evaluating TCM practices, and the application of modern scientific tools such as proteomics to the study of TCM.

The roundtable, coordinated by the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Fogarty International Center, was held in advance of the Fourth Session of the United States-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Participants in the roundtable included a delegation from the Chinese State Administration on TCM, academics from US universities, and scientists and researchers from the NIH, Indian Health Service and the American Food and Drug Administration.

TCM involves numerous practices including acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal therapies. In 2007, NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine invested nearly US$20 million on research into TCM practices.

"The difference between TCM and Western medicine typifies the challenge of working cooperatively with the Chinese; two different philosophies and two different systems," Leavitt said.

"Neither should attempt to change the other, but rather to make our systems inter-operable. It is critical to remember this is a method of treatment hundreds of millions of Chinese prefer. They don't trust Western medical techniques."

The new initiative is expected to stimulate additional scientific exchange and collaboration on TCM between individual scientists and research institutions in both countries. The purpose of the memorandum is to identify broad areas of mutual interest, and general activities the participants could carry out in support of their shared priorities and objectives.

Areas of mutual interest would include basic and clinical research on acupuncture, basic and clinical research on the safety and efficacy of Chinese herbal remedies and the development of optimal methodologies for quality assurance in manufacturing these remedies.

It could also take in the study of complex, simultaneous interventions such as herbal-medicine mixtures, or mixed-modality approaches and so on, the study of individualised interventions, the use of subjective or patient-reported endpoints for safety and the efficacy in clinical research on complementary and alternative medicine/traditional medicine.

Then there is the integration of traditional and modern or Western diagnostic approaches and criteria, the integration of traditional and modern endpoints for the safety and efficacy in clinical research on CAM-TM, and the application of genomics, proteomics, and systems biology to the study of TCM.

The memorandum between the two giant nations was accompanied by developments on the corporate front with Chinese biomedical companies entering into an unusually large number of partnerships with foreign companies.

For example, a three-way joint venture called Pacific Biopharma brought together San Diego's PacificGMP, a consortium of three University of California universities, and the Taizhou government. The new venture will operate from the GaoGong Science and Technology Park of the Taizhou government and will specialise in small batch contract manufacturing of biological drugs.

In another deal, WuXi PharmaTech has signed an MoU with Covance, a fellow corporate research organisation with worldwide facilities. Under this agreement, Covance will partner with WuXi on the Suzhou toxicology laboratory that WuXi has been building since the third quarter of 2007 and provide toxicology services.