China promotes traditional remedies as alternatives to Pfizer pills | Coronavirus


As Hong Kong’s outbreak became the world’s deadliest, among the aid Beijing sent to the financial hub were 1 million packets of honeysuckle, rhubarb root, sweet wormwood herb and other natural ingredients, all blended according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

Practitioners in the age-old medical system claim that such herbal combinations can be just as effective as antiviral pills like Paxlovid from Pfizer Inc.

“Unlike Western medicine which targets the virus itself, the way TCM works against COVID is to first change the environment of our human body,” said Liu Qingquan, dean of the medical hospital. Chinese tradition in Beijing. “Once the environment changes, the virus can no longer survive.”

President Xi Jinping wants other countries to give Chinese herbal remedies a chance. His government is promoting TCM to its allies around the world, sending traditional medicine specialists to Cambodia and supporting clinical trials in Pakistan, two countries that are heavily dependent on Chinese aid.

In 2020, Russia allowed pharmacies to sell Lianhua Qingwen, one of the most popular types of TCM used to treat patients with COVID-19, and the government of another authoritarian leader, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko , agreed last year to establish a production center of MTC near Minsk.

Making TCM globally acceptable as a treatment option for COVID-19 is an important part of Xi’s strategy to use the pandemic to elevate Chinese innovations and inventions. China has still not approved widely used vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer, instead developing its own vaccines and making them readily available around the world.

To advance its soft power goals, China needs locally developed vaccines and treatments, says Michael Shoebridge, director of defence, strategy and national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank in Canberra. “It’s part of creating a China-centric world,” he said. “It’s a door opener.”

China is struggling to persuade skeptics to cast aside doubts about drugs that have not undergone the large standardized clinical trials required by regulators with global credibility like the US Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.

Western medicine explicitly explains how the active ingredients of a drug are transformed in the body, but proponents of TCM struggle to show how the different components of a concoction work. While studies from China claim TCM has benefits for COVID-19 patients, critics say there are problems in the way the trials are designed and run, preventing researchers from reaching definitive conclusions. impartial and convincing conclusions.

Even Singapore, with a large ethnic Chinese population accustomed to traditional medicines, has warned citizens not to take Lianhua Qingwen as a COVID-19 treatment. “To date, there is no scientific evidence from randomized clinical trials to show that any herbal product, including Lianhua Qingwen products, can be used to prevent or treat COVID-19,” said said the Singapore Health Sciences Authority on November 17. advise members of the public not to fall prey to unsubstantiated claims or spread unsubstantiated rumors that herbal products may be used to prevent or treat COVID-19.

In 2020, the US FDA sent at least six warning letters to companies selling Lianhua Qingwen and other TCM products purporting to be COVID1-9 remedies, informing vendors that the products were unapproved drugs and wrong labeled.

Such warnings ignore the results of a clinical trial published in May 2020, according to Lianhua Qingwen’s producer, Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical Co.

“It was found in the study in terms of clinical use that Lianhua Qingwen proved to be both safe and effective in treating COVID-19 in conjunction with conventional therapy, as it could provide significant relief from clinical symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, weakness, and cough, significantly improve lung damage, shorten symptom duration, and increase clinical recovery rate,” the company said in a statement last June.

Lianhua Qingwen products generated revenue of about 4.3 billion yuan ($676 million) in 2020, with annual growth of 150 percent, according to Yiling’s annual report last April.

Yiling declined to comment on regulatory warnings against TCM’s claims of effectiveness against COVID-19, but said the company has never exported Lianhua Qingwen to countries where the drug has not yet obtained approval. regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, researchers in China have published studies purporting to show the effectiveness of herbal treatments, and state media frequently quote Xi calling TCM a “treasure of the Chinese nation.” In May 2021, he said the COVID-19 outbreak has helped people better understand TCM.

Promoting TCM is about geopolitics, not science, according to Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London. “If TCM turns out to be an effective remedy, I’m sure the whole world will rejoice,” he said. “The problem is that there is no solid evidence that this is the case.”

A TCM component may have no effect when used individually, but could work when combined with others, said Danny Wong, chairman of Hong Kong-based Medisun Holdings Ltd., one of partners promoting TCM Jinhuaqinggan therapy as a COVID-19 medicine outside the mainland. The drug was approved in 2020 for the treatment of COVID-19 after national studies claimed it relieved symptoms including fever, muscle aches and headaches.

“The challenge of explaining and unpacking the working mechanism of the TCM is like trying to figure out what exactly powers an automobile,” Wong said. “Is it the tires or the engine? They all helped to move the car forward.

Given these challenges to establishing the effectiveness of TCM, there are limits to what even friendly countries will do to help.

One of China’s closest friends in Europe is Serbia, which in March 2021 struck a deal to manufacture Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccines, as well as TCM treatments and services. A year later, however, pharmacies in Belgrade have done little to boost sales of TCM cures and hospitals have not added TCM to protocols for COVID-19 patients.

Even China isn’t entirely betting on TCM, in February approving Paxlovid, the first foreign pharmaceutical for COVID-19 to be accepted by regulators.

With generic drug makers around the world now making inexpensive versions of antivirals from Pfizer and Merck, interest in pre-COVID-19 Chinese herbal remedies is likely to fade, says Saye Khoo, professor in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Liverpool. At the start of the pandemic, “we went with the drugs we already had, and we didn’t get huge antiviral benefits,” he said. Now, “we are not at that time”.

Back in Hong Kong, authorities plan to send herbal remedies to every household. The city has recently started receiving large supplies of antivirals, creating a chance to compare them to TCM, said Dennis Lam, head of the Hong Kong Alliance for Integrated Medicine against COVID. “It gives us the opportunity to do a good randomized controlled trial,” he said, “so maybe we can share more about their quality.”


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