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Chinese Medicine Gets Booster
Local enterprises and government entities in Shanghai are spending more than 1 billion yuan (US$124 million) to modernize the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) industry, hoping that will be an antidote to coming competition from foreign pharmaceutical companies.

Manufacturing reforms and the development of new medication top the list, attracting 800 million yuan (US$96.4 million) from private companies. And the Shanghai municipal government has set aside 120 million yuan (US$14.5 million) for TCM basic research, new medicine discovery and research centre construction between 2000 and 2002.

Another 100 million yuan (US$12 million) is coming from venture capital as part of a three-year programme for TCM development run by the Shanghai Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry Office (SBPIO).

The aim is to turn this booming sector into a pillar industry for Shanghai, China's fourth-largest pharmaceutical base.

Shanghai's 2001-05 development plan envisions the city's pharmaceutical output growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent to reach 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion) by 2005.

Experts say that enhancing China's TCM industry is one way to counter the coming onslaught of competition from Western drug companies about to enter a liberalized marketplace.

"With China's expected entry into World Trade Organization, local Western medicine producers will have to compete with Western giants, who have superior access to financing and advanced technology," SBPIO official Yu Manlei said.

TCM producers may enjoy a niche market in that context that will become more profitable, experts say.

To further this aim, the Shanghai TCM Innovation Centre and the TCM Standardization Research Centre have been established in the Zhangjiang High-Tech Park. The National TCM Pharmaceutical Engineering and Technology Research Centre, featuring staff from the Shanghai University of TCM, also will be set up soon.

These research institutions are scrambling to find high-tech ways to turn herbal mixes into tablets, instant drinks, injections and sprays to be mass-produced. Presently, TCM patients must boil the raw materials themselves at home.

The three-year programme focuses on drugs that have been used in clinical settings at hospitals and have been prescribed by well-respected TCM doctors.

When the programme is completed, Shanghai expects to have 10 competitive TCM brands and pharmaceutical enterprises; their sales revenue could reach 100 million yuan (US$12 million) next year.

(China Daily 09/25/2001)

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