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Biotech a Tonic for Growth of Traditional Medicines
China's pharmaceutical sector needs to combine promising biotechnology with traditional Chinese medicine to create new drugs and obtain their intellectual property rights (IPR), officials and scientists said yesterday.

Hui Yongzheng, director of the Shanghai Chinese Medicine Research Center and former vice-minister of science and technology, said biotechnology, extensively used in the pharmaceutical industry and medical diagnosis, can also modernize and industrialize traditional Chinese medicine.

Hui made the remarks at a forum looking at China's pharmaceutical future, held yesterday in Shanghai's Zhangjiang High-Tech Park, which is known as a key national medicine research and manufacturing base and is home to more than 90 pharmaceutical companies from home and abroad.

According to Hui, biotechnology-related medical products had an approximate global sales value of US$500 billion annually over the past few years.

"It has been a global tendency of replacing chemical medicine products with biotech and natural drugs," Hui said.

The composition of traditional Chinese medicines, made mainly from natural herbs, can be pinpointed by modern biotechnology.

Furthermore, biotechnology can help improve the impact of the herbs and mass produce more, cheaper biotech medical substitutes, according to Hui.

But, Hui said IPRs of the new drugs should be protected under more detailed laws and regulations. The State and local governments need to strengthen support for such a new area by offering more financial assistance and reinforcing IPR protection.

Richard Roberts, a 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, yesterday also urged Chinese pharmaceutical businesses to choose areas where they can compete with the West. "There has been a tremendous tendency for Chinese (pharmaceutical) businesses to copy what is going on in the West," Roberts said.

Roberts said China's businesses can collaborate with Western counterparts to develop more patented medicines.

(China Daily September 13, 2002)

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