TCM industry in Taiwan must go international, says Dr Chang.
TRADITIONAL Chinese medicine may have begun in China, but it is in Korea and Japan that it has blossomed.
Both Japan's Kanbo and Korea's traditional medicine, which are closely related to Chinese medicine, are modernised way ahead of TCM, according to Dr Chang Chung-gwo, chairman of the Committee on Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy in the Department of Health, Taiwan's top government authority on TCM.
He has visited both countries and is impressed by how well the quality control issue is tackled there and how their products are marketed abroad.
'The development of Western medicine now faces some bottlenecks, that is why scientists everywhere are turning to traditional medicine for clues to a breakthrough. How can one still lag behind in developing one's own treasure!' he tells Sunday Review.
After two years on the job, he has earned grudging admiration from even the most sceptical Western doctors for his fight for the rights of practitioners and his ambitious vision for TCM development.
It was Dr Chang who set the government's NT$3.5 billion (S$200 million) TCM Five-Year Plan in motion this year to transform Taiwan into a TCM Technology Island by 2006.
As a licensed doctor in Western and Chinese medicine, he is very blunt in pointing out that the laws are unfair in forbidding people like him to practise both disciplines.
In his view, the integration of Western and Chinese medicine, which is the accepted status quo in China, provides better patient care than either.
Dr Chang, who is in his late 50s, was professor at Taiwan's prestigious China Medical College in Taichung before he came to his current position.
He says his most immediate concern now is the setting up of standards and specifications for tighter quality control.
Next is pushing for clinical trials that meet the strict standards of the US Food and Drug Administration to settle the issue of the efficacy of TCM once and for all.
He makes no bones about the fact that Taiwan's TCM industry must go international. Most of the funds in the TCM five-year plan, he says, will support the development to the clinical trial stage of between 30 and 50 new TCM drugs, which are targeted at the international market.
The game plan, he says, is for the drug formulations to be patented in the US for protection, and for the early phase of clinical trials to be done in Taiwan, as it is cheaper and subsidised by the government. But the international marketing rights will be licensed to global pharmaceutical giants.
He has set a target of NT$40 billion for Taiwan's TCM industry in 2006, both from the international sales of new TCM drugs and the development of related industries, such as new health food products, medical plasters, herbal skin care products, medicinal wines and so on.
Taiwan's TCM drugs market was NT$4.1 billion in 1999.
'It is embarrassing to see TCM lagging behind. China, Hongkong and Taiwan should cooperate closely for a stronger push to catch up. Singapore should hop on the wagon, too.'