To advance biotechnology in Taiwan, the Department of Health yesterday officially certified seven hospitals to operate as the nation's first centers for clinical experimentation in Chinese medicine.
"It is a milestone for Taiwan in developing biotechnology in the field of Chinese medicine," according to the department's Committee on Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy (中醫藥委員會).
The committee said the establishment of the seven centers was part of an Executive Yuan objective to capitalize on ancient Chinese medical knowledge and export related products to the global market.
"Research and development in Chinese medicine is crucial to maintaining Taiwan's position in the biotech industry, and this is especially important while the nation's high-tech sector is in a slump," said Chang Chung-Gwo (張成國), chairman of the committee.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs has produced a five-year blueprint for the development of the Chinese medicine industry and has earmarked NT$3.5 billion for the project.
"Hong Kong has aimed at developing itself into a major center for Chinese medicine. Taiwan is now also ready to turn itself into a nation distinguished for its use of technology in the field of Chinese medicine," Chang said. He added that that China had also set up several centers for clinical trials.
"We also want to attract European and US consumers, but we must adopt scientific methods, such as clinical trials, to prove to the West that our traditional medicine products work."
Chang Chung-kwo, chairman of the health department's Committee on Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy
Many other countries, such as Germany, Japan, Britain and the US have committed themselves to the development and research of natural medicines using modern scientific methods.
"Taiwan has an advantage in competing with its foreign counterparts, in its inheritance of the traditional practice of Chinese medicine and a wealth of experience derived from that," said Yang Han-chuan (楊漢泉), deputy director- general of the health department.
Chang said that Western pharmacology had "drawn blanks" in seeking cures for certain diseases such as AIDS, cancer and hepatitis B. That, he said, was why many medical and pharmaceutical professionals have sought alternative remedies and brought Chinese medicines, which use natural ingredients, to a wider market.
"Great profits are expected by businesses involved in Chinese medicinal biotechnology. Three years ago, Taiwan had no more than five companies involved in that area. Now there are over 300 companies of this kind sharing the market," Chang said.
He said that a huge market for such businesses exists in the two billion-strong ethnic Chinese population worldwide.
"We also want to attract European and US consumers," Chang said, "but we must adopt scientific methods, such as clinical trials, to prove to the West that our traditional medicine products work."
"Otherwise such products will only be able to be sold as health foods, rather than medicines claiming curative effects," he added.
According to the committee, these centers would operate in accordance with standards laid down by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The development of Chinese medicine in Taiwan has always been based on written documentation of the longstanding practice and clinical experiences of Chinese physicians from ancient times, but not on proven science, he said.
The seven centers that have been named the Chimei Foundation Medical Center (奇美醫院), the Veterans General Hospitals (榮總) in Taipei and Taichung, National Taiwan University Hospital (台大) in Taipei, Taipei Show-chwan Hospital (秀傳醫院), China Medical College Hospital (中國醫藥學院附設醫院) in Kaohsiung and the Linkou Chang-Gung Memorial Hospital (長庚) in Taoyuan.
The centers must conduct at least one clinical trial in Chinese medicine per year in order to continue to receive funding from the health department.